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.