To celebrate International Volunteer Day, Our Digital Communications Support Volunteer Goedele has written about what volunteering means to her:

"I have been volunteering since I was sixteen years old. Like many young adolescents where I lived, I rolled into the traditional roles of babysitter and supervisor at summer camps for children and young teenagers. Later, I added regular visits to a centre for asylum seekers to entertain the children there (and give their parents some well-deserved time off!). Doing this was a given to me. I never even considered a life in which I wasn’t spending some of my time in this way.

When I moved to England to continue my studies in higher education, all these activities that I had going fell away and I didn’t pick up any similar ones in my new country. I got wrapped up in my work as a PhD student in Philosophy at the University of Essex. While this seemed to work fine for a few years at least, at some point I got a sense that something was missing from my life. I had never thought about why I was a volunteer before, but now it was clear to me.

I am acutely aware of having been born in a life of privilege. I have a family who loves me. I have always had a roof over my head and food to fill my stomach. My parents didn’t spoil my sisters and me, but we never needed for anything. They fully supported me in going to university and picking a subject that I was interested in, and continued that support when I decided to pursue a PhD in Philosophy in a foreign country. I have been extremely lucky – but for many, this is not the case.

For this reason, I feel very passionate about helping those who are less fortunate than me, but as a PhD student and a young person starting out in life, I do not have the financial resources to support the organisations whose work I admire. I donate what I can, but it doesn’t seem enough. What I can donate, however, is time, even if it is very precious to me as well. So I volunteer.

In looking for a place to volunteer, I checked out different non-profit organisations that spoke to me and needed work to be done that appealed to me. Being very concerned about the suffering and injustice I see in the world, I looked for organisations that sought to improve the lives of people who have somehow slipped through the cracks of society or cannot find the help they need.

When I stumbled across a volunteer vacancy at Lepra, an international aid organisation based in the town where I lived, I couldn’t believe it. When I started to look for places to volunteer, I would have never thought that I would have the opportunity to contribute to the amazing work of such a prominent international charity. This is not to say that smaller charities are not doing important work – they are! – but I had always had an interest in international aid; I simply never had the opportunity to be involved in it before. In other words, this was a dream position for me with an organisation that was doing work in line with not only my values, but also my interests.

Lepra has been very flexible in terms of the hours I am able to commit myself to this work. This allows me to be involved in a wonderful organisation that improves people’s lives on a daily basis – something which is incredibly important and which I have always felt very strongly about – while also pursuing another passion of mine: academic research and higher education. I am able to apply my skills to the betterment of people living with poverty, disease, and prejudice, while also gaining invaluable experience of working for an international aid organisation.

Again, I realise how fortunate I am to be in this position. I am very grateful to Lepra for having given me the opportunity to be involved in their work in a minute way. It is an experience that I will cherish for a long time to come."

Goedele Caluwé, Digital Communications Support Volunteer at Lepra