“Experience you just can’t buy”
Michael Majek is studying Events Management at London Met University and, like many of our students, also chose to take up some volunteer work while studying, an experience that he has found extremely rewarding and which has taken him from a famous North London football club all the way to Uganda. Reach (part of SDAS, Student Services) asked him to sit down with us and tell us a little about what he’d been up to.……
Michael told us that he had originally begun volunteering as a mentor and had looked to do something similar to this again: “It was something I had started in college, mentoring younger students in their first year. I feel that I can relate to younger people as can understand where they are coming from and maybe I can be a positive role model to them.” He continued this at London Met by taking a volunteer position with Arsenal Double Club, an organisation with close ties to the university. He spent six weeks volunteering as an assistant to teachers and to coaches, working with children on education, community projects and even helping to arrange events that included meetings between children and some of the famous club’s star players. As someone with a particular interest in events organisation, the placement helped Michael gain some first-hand experience in their preparation and execution. “You see so much internally that you wouldn’t otherwise,” he told us. “And Arsenal actually asked me to come back to do more work with them.”
The skills and experience that Michael gained in this role will no doubt look very impressive on his CV, particularly as he was based at such a famous and internationally successful football club. However, Michael had no intention of ending his volunteering association there. Having enjoyed working with children so much while at Arsenal, he then became interested in Hope For Children, with whom he was again able to work alongside young people, although this time he found himself travelling a little further afield…
In fact, Michael did a two-month placement in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, spending much of his time working in an area called Namuwongo. He was part of a team of half a dozen student volunteers who undertook a variety of work with children, including teaching, cleaning and maintenance of classrooms. Much of the work was done at Sanyu Babies' Home, where the team helped look after over thirty orphans, many of who are typically found abandoned in slums, on doorsteps or in taxi parks. It was an experience that was both enormous fun and very rewarding for orphans and volunteers alike, as they came to learn from each other, and the volunteers were able to make a real difference from the moment they started work.
The trip gave Michael and the other volunteers an opportunity to see and do a great many other things while they were there. The team volunteered during normal nine to five working hours, but were also able to enjoy their spare time in all kinds of different ways. “We were always on the move,” Michael said, describing the many different places and activities the students were able to participate in, including visiting famous landmarks such as Bujagali Falls, part of the Nile river, and even enjoying a safari experience, Ugandan-style.…..
The trip was also a bonding experience. “We made some really good friends out there,” said Michael, referring to the Ugandans that they would work with and also the other students, who were enjoying living, working and travelling together. He described this sense of communal fun and optimism as being “More like the Big Brother house.”
What’s perhaps most striking about Michael’s volunteering stories is not how interesting they are, but how many there are. He talks of introducing Ugandan children to exciting new experiences, such as their first encounter with ice cream, or even with pools, which some had not seen before; the big changes that a small team of volunteers can achieve when they work together; the many new places he visited; even the unique experience of busy marketshopping in Kampala.
Although his work with Arsenal and with Hope For Children has given him a great deal of experience teaching, mentoring and organising events, it’s not the skills that he talks about, it’s the memories and moments, and how simple work often made a big difference: “I did nothing out of the ordinary, but they really appreciated what we did.”
Michael has been offered another placement by Arsenal and is also considering doing another stint in Uganda, possibly returning as an event co-ordinator in 2009, a promotion that will open up even more possibilities and, of course, look fantastic on his CV. When reflecting upon everything that he’s been able to enjoy while volunteering with young people at home and abroad, Michael sums up all the fun, all the experience and all the memories with just one simple phrase: “It’s one of thoseexperiences you just can’t buy."