Woman on Bike Reaching Out

Volunteering is a topic I never speak about with anyone. It was just one of those things everyone thinks about subconsciously. Then there are moments when you see a rough sleeper and think to yourself oh I wish I could do something to help them yet you don’t give them any spare change when they ask. I struggled to think of ways to truly contribute to society because no one ever talked about it and I didn’t know much about it. I thought I would share my story of how and why I started volunteering. We should stop thinking we’re showing off by talking about our charitable work. Talking about volunteering or even helping others creates curiosity, creates interest and we need that exposure to create awareness and so people can learn how they too can help even if it is just becoming more compassionate.

Growing up, I lived with an English family up until I was 4. My mum used to tell me how grateful she was for this family for looking after me. She struggled to work and take care of me as a single mother because my dad went off with another woman and didn’t want to step up to any responsibility. This family,  who was my dad’s business partners at the time, saw this and stopped charging babysitting fees and became my guardians and raised me as their own. It lifted a lot of stress and weight off my mum’s shoulders; it must have been difficult for her. Because of this, for my entire life, I feel drawn to this surrogate family. I know it was only the first 4 years of my life but that selflessness and compassion were so strong it bonded me to this family for life.

The first time I volunteered was involuntarily. I was in primary school, about 6/7 years old and a part of this Chinese community group for women and their kids. We learnt dance routines and danced for disabled children. I loved it. Not dancing for the children but doing activities and the act of being apart of a community.

Then a head teacher of a local Chinese school saw our dance and approached us with a request and I started doing Chinese dragon dancing with Jenny. I think I was about 10. I was the bum section obviously flapping the sides, wiggling my butt, running around and following Jenny. Jenny was so much more confident and sparky than me so she got to be the dragon’s head; thrusting it around and jumping up and shredding the cabbages and taking the red envelopes which only had about 20p in them. We were booked out by Chinese schools for events, random halls, staged events and all sorts of things. We were known by word of mouth. We even made up our own Kung-Fu routine introduction we did at the beginning. These special moments I saviour all stemmed down to contributing to the community.

Jenny was also part of this community group and many other Chinese Women and their kids. When I was too young to stay home alone and my mum went off to work, different friends from this community group would alternate and babysit me basically all the time but I loved it. I was an only child and being with other children in a family environment was fun.

I think it’s fine tuned into Asian culture you must help others in need especially family and friends. You read about stereotypes about Chinese people and that no one cares for one another, how we have no compassion and how selfish everyone is. What they mean is no one cares about people they don’t know. In our culture we actually deeply care about our family members. We do a lot for each other, for our friends, for our communities and the younger generation are accustomed to care for the old. Throughout my entire life I was annoyed at my mum for dragging me into her affairs but I think inside I liked helping her out with everything because it gave me a sense of doing a good deed. Even if I had no say in it. I started doing little things for her at a really young age like calling up the council, filling in all her forms, talking on her behalf at the bank. Little things eventually became big things but saying that though I NEVER ever helped with house work lol. Then it started to progress into helping her at work, helping her friends write their CV, fixing their internet, fixing her work computers, writing things for other relatives, translating, buying and fixing broken down things at home, organising her entire holidays. As much as I complained I kind of liked it. In a weird way having such a huge responsibility cultivated many life skills that I would later learn to be useful in life. My mum was always helping others not just through me but I watched her lend her entire life savings to friends to start businesses, she thinks about her friends first whenever she comes across bargains or stuff she knows they will like. She often picks up and helps her manager on a personal level on weekends even though she despises him. Amongst other stuff she was always doing her best to help others and provide for me and maybe it made her feel entitled to ask me for help all the time because she was so use to doing it naturally. She didn’t feel like it was too much to ask me for anything and everything.

Through out my life I have seen and felt other people’s compassion for me and my mother and watch my mother be the same for others. It’s something I have grown up with and I am grateful to every one of those people for helping my Mum provide a stable upbringing for me. I can imagine being a immigrant woman with no qualifications and minimal English skills lugging a child around alone is completely terrifying. We are VERY lucky that we have a social welfare system in place in the UK. It provided us a home, income and stability when we needed it the most. Every little help from each person really counted towards the happy life we have lived despite not being rich or ‘successful’.

Now I do a lot of random volunteering here and there for my friends but I’ve been doing my first proper volunteering job for almost a year now. I visit the home of elderly Jewish Refugees from WW2 and befriend them, talk to them about their lives and teach them how to use their computers. I actually got into this as I was going to move to Croydon and I didn’t know anyone and felt like volunteering was the best way to get to know people and contribute to the community. I also wanted to do something computer related to utilise one of my most strongest skills. So that’s how I started.

My ex boyfriend wrote me letter of apology and closure for everything he put me through the past year and in it he spoke about how I inspired him to help others just by doing it myself. I didn’t think that I could do such a thing but he was the only person who I told what I was up to all the time. Who I spoke about and updated on how I was helping Hana, an elderly refugee, with her computer. I told him about the little moments we shared and the connection I felt to her. And the fact it affected him in this way made me realise, instead of being ashamed and scared to admit I am doing charity work in fear people will use that against me to judge me, I should be talking about it. I should be sharing and creating awareness. I shouldn’t be thinking about what people would think. That “she’s doing that to make herself look good”, “she’s doing it to show off” ,“she wants people to think she’s this amazing and nice person”, “it’s self validating”. I want to strip that taboo of talking about helping people because I freakin’ love it. Every time Hana tells me about her life, opens up and shares her story with me, she inspires me without realising. She touches my heart in a warm way.  She’s interesting and curious and i would never have met her if didnt volunteer.

Me and my mum are not a charity case. We were just lucky enough to be surround by love, kindness and amazing people. I’ve experienced first hand how a little help can make a huge impact to an entire life. Im not saying I’m the worlds nicest person, or better than anyone else. Ive been a bully, I’ve been selfish, I am selfish, I’ve been cruel and mean and done all sorts of awful things but that doesn’t make me a bad person. I am just me living my life as I am.

I know many others who volunteer and you should tell the world! Share your stories and let others know how they can make a difference too. If you want to make a difference start today it doesn’t have to be volunteering, it doesn’t have to be anything you go out of your way to do. It’s just the act of doing something for the benefit of others without the expectation of anything in return. The reward is in the act of giving itself, but I’m sure you know this already 🙂

Here’s the website I used to find volunteering work: Do-it.org.uk

Feel free to share your stories in the comments section

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