Empowering change for women’s equality.

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by Bassmala Elbushary, BSc (Hons) Biomedical Science

There are numerous reasons why I wanted to volunteer. Firstly, I wanted to use my passion (helping others) to make a positive impact and explore where my passion can be useful. That’s why when I found out about the volunteering opportunity at FORWARD, I did not hesitate to get involved. FORWARD strives for African women’s rights and I was so keen to amplify the voices and challenges African women encounter. Furthermore, I wanted to get involved in change-making and have a positive influence on people’s lives. This could be from raising awareness to writing letters to MPs. Lastly, I wanted to meet people who have similar mindset and want to make a difference in this world.

How I got involved in volunteering

It was 2019 when I found out about FOWARD. My mother has a friend who knew the manager of the organisation and the organisation was promoting their volunteering opportunity. I was so keen to apply.

I got involved by completing an application form. It was open to all African women living in England and Wales. Then, I completed a three-days training in Cardiff. After completing the training, I became a youth fellow in the organisation.

My Project

During my training programme, I was asked to work as a group to find solutions to some of the issues African women face. At the end of the training, I was asked to create a social project.

For my social project, I decided to make a Facebook Live exploring the issues Sudanese women face and discussing solutions with them as a group. In the Facebook Live, I got my mother and my little sister to discuss their opinions regarding women’s rights. The Facebook Live was very successful as I had over 5000 views.

The second part of my social project was to hold a discussion group with the Sudanese women and men. I booked a venue, and I invited all the Sudanese women in my local area to discuss the issues Sudanese women face and I asked them to work in groups to come up with solutions. Then, I went to London and conducted a discussion group with the Sudanese men and how men can support the women and influence policy makers in Sudan.

I highly recommend volunteering to everyone because you gain plenty of experience and skills.

Community Impact

Primarily, my volunteering has helped the audiences that I gave my talk to about Sudanese women’s right and most of them agreed with the points I spoke about. The feedback from the discussion group were all positive. Some stated they ‘can make a difference’ in their lives. Others said they felt ‘empowered’. Secondly, some of the audience from the focus group asked me to conduct another focus group because they enjoyed it and found it very beneficial.

How volunteering has helped with my career goals

During my training, I developed my confidence to engage with wider audience and the support that I received from the organisers made me believe in myself. In my chosen career as an Biomedical Science Lecturer, I will need the confidence to perform presentations and focus groups.

I also learned teamwork and communication skills through the group work and the discussions I did. This links strongly with my chosen career because I will have to work in a team to conduct experiments/produce a research paper.

Most importantly, I learnt time management skills because I had a deadline to complete the social project by. Time management skills is highly favourable in my chosen career as all the work has a specific deadline.

Finally, I built a strong network which is very essential if I want to progress further. Having a strong network is vital for references and to gain advice from experts. As I became a youth member at the organisation, I am in the process of launching my own international project in Sudan developing the rural area. The organisation’s manager is supporting me to finalise my proposal for funding.

How my experience with pro bono work has impacted my career journey

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Kashif Imambaccass, UWE Law Student, shares his experience of pro bono work at UWE

My interest in pro bono was initially piqued in my first year and I ended up joining in my second year, after using Blackboard to compare different pro bono opportunities and attending the Pro Bono talk. It was there I heard about African Prisons Project Pro bono group. I was immediately impressed by the work that they do and the impact that they have on the justice system in Africa. They teach inmates in African prisons how to access justice by assisting them in undertaking Law degrees remotely. I approached Kelly Eastham and Nakita Hedges, who were involved in the leadership of the group at the time, and asked if I could take a leadership role as I had had prior involvement in social activism in Mauritius. They agreed and at the start of 2019, I began having meetings with them on strategy and formed the three subgroups – fundraising, media and blogs and teaching. We also nominated leaders for each individual group and I was nominated to lead the teaching group.

Working with the group was amazing – our faculty contact Kathy Brown was the backbone of the organization and has motivated us to develop the organization further after handing over the group to us. We invited new members across the university to get involved and organized both a bake sale and a book collection for our students in Kenya.

In January of 2020, our group had grown significantly, with 70 new members. We had also started developing podcasts to support the learning of the inmates. We were also beginning to plan for the visit of Morris, one of APP’s graduates who had been wrongfully sentenced to life for aggravated armed robbery. We set up a visit at UWE on the 10th of February for him to give a talk, which ended up being so successful that we ran out of space in the lecture hall. Morris spoke about his fight for freedom and how he has freed over 300 inmates since.

His talk sparked a lot of interest and APP was invited to a dinner at Lincoln’s Inn in London, along with Morris. I was able to network with judges, barristers and solicitors who were intrigued by APP’s work. We also set up a fundraising event at a local pub a few weeks after, raising over £300.

And then Covid-19 hit. I had to leave the UK on the 16th of March. The borders were closing and the airports were insanely busy. Luckily, we were able to continue our work with APP and adapted our work to provide remote learning over Zoom. All of our current tutees passed with flying colours. With our fundraising money from March, we were able to make bail for four female minor offenders. We also received some sponsorship from the law firm, RPC, at this time.

Despite the barriers posed by working in different time zones and trying to navigate social activism in a new world, APP continued to thrive. In fact, we began to rebrand APP as EFJ – Educating for Justice, a completely independent non-profit. We broadened our offer as a group and began to work with inmates in more communities. We have been working with Justice Defenders and have established a subgroup at Oxford University. As chairperson of EFJ, I have been responsible for liaising with all of our affiliates, as well as assisting with launching our new initiatives, in particular our programme based in Mauritius working with juvenile offenders.

Overall, pro bono has opened so many doors for me. Through my work with EFJ, I have been able to secure a mini-pupillage with the Directors of Public Prosecutions Office under Mr Santokee. Through this role, I have been involved in research work, bundling and court prep and juggling EFJ, a pupillage and university feels like great preparation for a career as a barrister. I could not recommend pro bono work enough to any Law student looking to develop skills for a career in the legal industry.

For more about EFJ, go to https://educatingforjustice.org.uk/.

My Volunteering Journey into Public Health

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Whilst studying Biological Sciences at UWE Bristol, Emma Sheeran has used valuable volunteering experiences to shape her career goals

My experience with the Royal Voluntary Service as a Befriender has been invaluable, not only due to the friendship I have formed with my client Gwen, but also by developing my skill set and helping me to focus my goals towards a career centred around improving healthcare services. 

I was drawn to working with the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) when I learnt about the history of the organisation, which was previously known as the Women’s Voluntary Service. They are committed to tackling social challenges by supporting hospitals and communities nationally.

How did your volunteering journey begin?

I initially supported as a Home from Hospital volunteer with Gwen, an elderly woman to support her re-adjustment to life following one month in hospital with Pneumonia. I then moved in to a Befriender role so I could continue visiting Gwen, as we had developed a strong bond. We have been seeing each other weekly ever since. 

Gwen lacked confidence to go out alone on shopping trips, or to doctors appointments. My visits ensured she would leave the house at least once a week to get essentials, lift her mood, and exercise.  Her health was a common obstacle to her independence, on one occasion I had to call an ambulance and remain with her in hospital for the day as she became suddenly unwell before making it to the shops.

Especially around the time of her poor health, my support gave her reassurance and encouragement to leave her home. Working with Gwen improved my communication skills, as well as emotional resilience as I learnt not to dwell on or take home concerns about Gwen from our visits.

My experience of the NHS with Gwen, like the consequences of their successes and failures in her particular case, inspired me greatly to commit to pursuing a career in public health. 

Where did your volunteering experience take you next?

The RVS was the first organisation I had volunteered with in Bristol, so taking encouragement from the impact and enjoyment of my work with RVS, I began furthering my volunteer experiences.

I became a mentor for refugees and asylum seekers with Borderlands. I designed and conducted a study into student experiences accessing sexual health services with Healthwatch. And I wrote strategy plans for the African Health Organisation. 

I had a long time ambition to learn Arabic to aid my career in global health; focusing on Middle Eastern regions. Last year I was accepted onto an Arabic course at Tel Aviv University. To fund the course fees and accommodation, I applied for, and was granted, the WRVS Benevolent Trust Youth Bursary. (Volunteering over 50 hours with the RVS meant Emma was eligible to apply for this fund towards her career development.)

This greatly contributed to further opportunities, including a successful application to a Global Health Summer School with IPPNW/Charité in Berlin:  Health Between Ethics and Economisation.

What’s your next steps?

Both by building my skills for the future and experience within my own community through volunteering, my role as a Befriender and the Arabic course work as examples of my commitment to a career in improving health. This has now led to an opportunity extended to a position on the organising team of the next Global Health Summer School: Migration and Health 2019. 

Celebrating UWE Talent Award winners on the stage
Due to her fantastic efforts to develop her career goals Emma was runner up for the ‘Volunteer of the Year Award’ at Celebrating UWE Talent 2019