#iWillWeek: "Volunteering has always been and will be a huge part of my life."

Aqeel is a MSYP for Glasgow Pollok, this #iWillWeek Aqeel talks about the value of volunteering and what he does.

Aqeel is a MSYP for Glasgow Pollok, he is photographed along with otter for #IWill week

Volunteering has always been and will be a huge part of my life. It’s never uncommon to be asked why do you do it? And, before I know it I’m reeling off a list of all the volunteering activities I do but forget to mention WHY? Well, here it goes – because it changes people’s lives for the better, helps me understand who I am and the most important part is you are valued as a volunteer.

So what do I do in my spare time (if any!)? I am a proud member of the Scottish Youth Parliament, Year of Young People Ambassador, volunteer at my local food bank, developing a new youth forum and social enterprise, a student and part-time policy officer at the Scottish Government. There goes my list again!

I want to just touch on a few examples and explain some eye-opening experiences and also most importantly why volunteering is vitally important.

Recently, I, alongside others, developed an integration initiative – the community kitchen at my local food bank. The new very welcome refugees posed a challenge. Not an impossible challenge. Of course, with any change for anyone, things can be hard, such as getting to know a new place, new language, new way of doing things and so on. So, to help the new arrivals settle in and to strengthen integration into our community we began the community kitchen at the Glasgow South West Foodbank. Bringing together local elected representatives, service providers and of course the lovely people themselves ensured connections were formed, friendships made, support provided whenever and wherever required but most of all it inspired me to be grateful for the things I have and it inspired me to keep on going. But it also enabled me, and other volunteers, to learn things about various cultures and backgrounds.

Indeed, this is one of the key themes of Scotland’s ‘Year of Young People’ to celebrate, learn and recognise the different cultures we are so lucky to be exposed to here in Scotland. To keep on fighting for the vulnerable who have potential, to keep on spreading the word of love not hate and to keep on lighting sparks in more people’s hearts to volunteer to make their communities feel welcome and connected.

So that’s one example of my volunteering experiences but some other examples also include my work as a Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament. At this point, I often reluctantly need to say, I am not paid, it is completely voluntary work. I feel reluctant because the work that I and many other youth parliamentarian colleagues do, do not want praise or money we just want to get on and ensure we transform the lives of the young people we serve no matter the hours of work we put in, no matter the challenges we face and no matter if we are the only young person in a room standing up for young people.

So, going on to talk about some of the things I do in my role as an MSYP. I regularly hold events in my constituency such as election hustings for the Scottish Parliament elections, campaign locally on issues such as on transport and regularly represent the youth parliament locally, nationally and even abroad. The work that we’ve done and do at SYP and other youth organisations contributes immensely to society. Some of our achievements have included gathering over 70,000 responses to our ‘Lead the Way’ manifesto, campaigning to ensure the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is incorporated into Scots law, campaigning for votes for 16 and 17-year-olds and many more successes.

But, the key point here is, it was all done on the back of committed volunteers, committed individuals with a vision and desire to ensure things change for the better.

When it comes to volunteering, I often see it as a job with no limits, no barriers and no excuses. Anyone and everyone can do it. It’s not limited to an elite few, it’s not only for those with knowledge and not only for those who are able to do something. I have a disability but that hasn’t stopped me from contributing. I also am a student with a range of other commitments just like hundreds of thousands of other young people but that has not stopped me or them from volunteering. At this point, it’s fitting to say that this proves young people are interested in creating a better society for their peers and future generations, they are engaged in the politics of our country and they are willing to contribute in any way they can without being paid!

Volunteering is all around me and you. There’s never a time when volunteers aren’t needed. Visit Voluntary Action to find out about volunteering opportunities near you and how you can make a difference to yourself and your local community.

So, join your local group, join a society, club or activity that interests you or start your own initiative so that you too can be counted as someone who is changing the world!

You can also look for volunteer opportunities on Volunteer ScotlandGood HQ as well as your local Third Sector Interface website.