Way back when, I made a resolution that I wanted to do a bit more for other people and give something back. To be honest, I wanted to use my time a little better and volunteering it was an entirely selfish decision; it was about me feeling good by doing something worthwhile.
I knew I wanted to be involved with a children’s charity as I’ve always had a natural affinity with little people. So, after scouring the internet I came across Friendship Works – a small London based charity who offer a long term mentoring programme for children who have had some of the worst starts in life imaginable.
After an in depth assessment process, I was matched by the charities case worker with an adorable eight year old girl from Peckham. I’ll call her R for the sake of privacy here. I was told she was a sweet but reserved little girl who was living with her mother in abject poverty. R had been referred to the charity via Social Services having been witness to domestic violence at home and her father had been in and out of her life due to jail stints because of theft stemming from extensive drug abuse.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first met R. She clearly wasn’t used to being around new adults and was chronically shy, but straight away I could see her bright, inquisitive nature underneath all that. She was quick to engage with me, asking questions and wanting to know what I liked as we chatted over an ice cream and a colouring book in the local cafe. R has a great thirst for knowledge and I have a bank of useless little facts which I drip feed her, and she has now started to do the same with me so we both learn new things on each outing.
We still enjoy ice creams together in that same cafe, but we’ve been on a wide variety of outings over the last year too. We have visited museums, gone to the zoo, been to the theatre, visited the Olympic Park where we tried out a whole host of sports and had a day trip to the seaside. We make things together, play games and I’ve recently taught her to swim which has been a great bonding experience and is now one of her favourite activities. I hope that by exposing R to some of these activities I am showing her a side to life she may not have had otherwise and through our chats she is seeing how many opportunities the world can offer.
I have definitely seen a change in R over the past year when it comes to confidence. When I knock on the front door now instead of peering at me from the top of the stairs, she rushes down to hug me. I have encouraged R to engage with others in small ways when we are out and about too, by asking for things in shops or ordering her own food. We recently had our 12 month review together with the charity caseworker, and I couldn’t help but smile when R was asked what she thought about me she said, “She always looks out for me, she is my best friend”.
This mentoring programme is proving to be an extremely valuable experience not only to R but to me too. It is a well documented fact that those who volunteer are happier and that giving time to support others is good for your own personal well being. I am a more content person now, and a lot of that has come from the fact I am doing something worthwhile. It is inspiring to know that just by giving up a small amount of my time, I can make a difference to someone’s life.
In the 12 month review some lovely things were said about me, but really all I have done is make plans, turn up and give R my attention for a couple of hours every other weekend. It just makes me think, if it’s that easy, imagine the difference we could make if everyone did something like this…