This week, when we were supposed to help with community service within our prospective homes for the semester I realized that I am legally not allowed to actually participate in community service while I am abroad because I don’t have a visa in order to do so. I decided, instead of actually participating that I would just observe other people doing their community service in the City of London in hopes that I would at least be able to see what kinds of community service takes place in London. This experience obviously wasn’t as hands on or meaningful as other community service experiences I have had, but it was definitely interesting to see the service taking place in front of me.
The community service program that I decided to observe was a very large organization that helps with communities across the UK called ‘Volunteering Matters.’ Volunteering matters had many different programs that they run in London to “deliver high impact volunteer-led solutions to some of the most difficult challenges facing individuals and their communities today.“ They believe that everyone within a community should participate play a role in bettering their surrounding community. They focus on four major parts of the community: elder people, disabled people, vulnerable families and the youth of these communities. By focusing on these main groups of the community that they will be able to “build stronger more cohesive communities” that will have a lasting affect on the communities. Volunteering Matters has approximately 35,000 volunteers a year, ranging from full-time volunteers to part-time volunteers, that participate in over 150 volunteering programs across the UK.
The program that I observed was a program that focused on the elderly and the youth of the City of London. This program is a mentorship type of program that helps to better both the youth and the elderly at the same time. The program sets up a person age 50+ with a kid from the age of 16-24 and they both mentor each other. The focus is that elderly people will become more active in the community, leave their homes more often and become more physically active while the youth are getting mentored from someone with a world of experience. I thought that this program was such a great idea and first hand could see how it actually worked for both groups of people.
Having observed the interaction that the groups of mentors had with one another I realized that it really wasn’t that much different from what I have experience back home when volunteering with various groups. In terms of facial expressions, a smile can only mean so many things and there was always a smile on the peoples face both here in London and back home. Watching the mentors interact with one another and seeing how happy they made each other made me so happy that they were having great experiences. Many of them would go out on walks around the block to get the elderly more active while the youth heard stories about the elderlies experience and advice that they had for the youths life and whatever they may be struggling with. I think that the happiness that this service gave the elderly and youth matches the happiness that I have been able to give others while working on other projects back home.
Being able to observe and have this experience in another country definitely made me feel so much more integrated in the local community than I ever would have if I didn’t have this experience. It has definitely given me a different prospective on the community I am living in as well as helps me to understand the people within my local community in a different way than I would have before.