Most LSE students are aware of the careers service. The popularity of careers fairs, networking events and skills sessions is undeniable: the rush to book a place, the queues of students in suits and the sheer number of these events. Even if the idea of donning a suit to go into university fills you with dread, it would be hard for you to re- main unaware of this side of LSE. The posters, the recruiters on campus and the “chat” surrounding internships and jobs all point us towards the holy grail of work. Nowhere else would someone approach you in the student union bar, with the line “Hi, I work for Goldman Sachs, want a drink?” – true story, needless to say it did not go down well. However, how many of us are aware of and use the smaller volunteering service we have?
Last week was apparently student volunteer week. I say apparently, be- cause whether it was the commencement of campaigning for elections or just my essays that distracted me, I certainly was not aware of it. When someone mentions student volunteering, you might think of building schools or teaching abroad in the summer break, but I am more interested in volunteering in our own locale. There is a worthy purpose in volunteering abroad. However, before we all jet off to somewhere sunny, should we not at first consider trying to address the issues we face at home?
Having spent the last week in a local girls high school, I would definitely say yes. I admit, my aims were not purely selfless- it was a compulsory step before training I am to do in summer. Though by the end of the week, I realised my help was definitely valued here, in a school practically on my doorstep. The school was meant to be good, but only 52% of pupils achieve the benchmark 5 A*-C grades, the basic standard they are meant to meet by the end of their compulsory education. The classes needed a lot of varied support and the kids themselves varied from working towards that A* in Maths to counting on their fingers and running around the room. Some could not read the questions, others had family problems at home and many thought university was just not possible for them. Now a week helping wouldn’t change this, I admit. But continued help would.
There are problems on our doorstep that we often disregard and try and forget about. How many home- less people do you pass on your walk home, and what do you do when you see them? Avert your eyes…perhaps, or maybe you buy a big issue and feel rather smug, even though you have just spent more than that on a coffee. Yet, we would fork our money to support charities abroad, even flying out to a place we know little about to help, even though it is a lot easier to fit in a couple of hours a week when you only have to walk down your road to get there.
Whether it is political or health- related or the arts, whatever you feel strongly about why not give up some of your time to actually act on your passions, rather than just talking about them? My week tired me out and I do not want to see another maths work- sheet for a while, but when one of the girls said, “Miss, I’m sad you’re leaving, you’re well good” I felt it was all worthwhile. It may seem hard to find the time, but this is going to be one of the most time-rich parts of our lives, at least until retirement. Not only is there the self-satisfaction, but volunteering provides experience in different industries and is looked favourably upon by employers.
Below the surface there is a wealth of volunteering at LSE: from the tutoring schemes in Widening Participation to mentoring students in years below to the running of societies and the halls committees and the creating of this very paper. Student life at LSE runs to a certain extent on people giving up their time to do things they (hopefully) enjoy and to help provide a service.
Many people I know question the costs and benefits of volunteering, often not realising they have been contributing themselves. In the wider community, discussion of volunteering has shifted to a discussion on how to incentivize volunteering, as if people cannot work out the benefits of it for themselves and need a more tangible carrot or even a harsh stick. Talk of compulsory volunteering for teenagers – an obvious contradiction – has been bandied around by major politicians in the past few years. Incentives are constantly being provided from awards to gig tickets to money. From my own experience, a youth organization I used to volunteer for provided incentive money, taxis and food to keep us helping. That was not volunteering, rather cheap labour, drawing us in the twenty pounds and some sandwiches from Pret. I know several people who are going to “volunteer” for the 2012 Olympics – I applied as well but without any transport or accommodation provided and without even the incentive to see any sport, this seems like a way of cutting costs in the running of the games.
This begs the question where does the line fall between volunteering and exploitation? Some would argue unpaid internships are just a form of volunteering, although in practice they abuse the eagerness of students, desperate for their dream job. Yet, I wholeheartedly agree that people should volunteer. Many of the answers of the issues we face in today’s society are going to be based in policy. As that often does not seem to be forthcoming, surely volunteering could alleviate some of the problems.
We should recognise more of what we do currently and maybe branch out a bit more, get off campus and away from the student-bubble. Disregarding the cheesy lines about making a difference, it is ourselves who benefit as well. Volunteering and then realising you do not want to work in that industry is a much easier and less painful than giving up several weeks into a year contract. You can expand your skills, become more employable and it might just give you something more interesting to talk about in the Tuns.