Have you ever thought of offering professional services for free?
Would you wake up every day to go to work, slog away all day and spend your own money to do a job that brings no pay cheque at the end of the month? How long can you work without pay – three months, six months, a year? Most importantly, why would anyone want to work for free?
While this is unthinkable to most graduates, a group of young people tell us the benefits they have accumulated from participating in voluntary work. Their stories will certainly change your perspective on unpaid work.
Occupation: International Development Practitioner
Organisations: Founder & Team Lead TAP Africa, Women & the Web Alliance Project Facilitator
Education: Bachelor of Commerce, Finance, University of Nairobi
What does your job entail?
I am working in a programme called Economic and Leadership Empowerment in Northern Region in Ghana. My work involves reviewing humanitarian programmes, identifying gaps in policy, offering advisory services to various organisations and capacity building for the people in charge of implementing the programmes.
Why did you choose to volunteer?
I got into volunteerism as a way of giving back to communities and contributing toward transformation in the education sector, with a particular focus on girls from disadvantaged backgrounds. I first volunteered with Equity Group Foundation’s Wings to Fly Programme as a mentor in 2010/2012.
By the time I graduated, I was convinced that I wanted to pursue a career in development. I forwent several jobs in the banking industry because I felt that as a banker, my impact would be less felt.
Has your voluntary work earned any recognitions?
My work has been featured on international platforms such as Time.com and Ananke Magazine, thanks to people I have met as a volunteer. I have also been invited to and addressed regional conferences such as the UN Women/SEED Africa Symposium 2016, The UN Secretary General High Level Panel Consultation Forum 2016, and Africa Facilitators’ Conference 2016.
World Pulse selected me as one of the 30 grassroots women leaders from across the world, for the Voices of Our Future Leaders program 2016.
What are some of the challenges you have faced as a volunteer?
I turned down jobs in financial institutions after graduating from university to offer services for free, a move that my family and friends did not understand. At times I did not have money for even personal effects – I survived by taking up online academic writing jobs.
What would you tell youths who believe one should only work for monetary reward?
Focus on developing your career during the initial years after graduating instead of placing too much emphasis on money.
This helps you to discover what you want to do with your life. Look for opportunities to travel on sponsorship, attend conferences, network and gain exposure.
Volunteer as much as possible while in college, online and offline and in various organisations.
Volunteer work: Kids Camp Comp
Current work: Editor at Kasoma Africa, an online publishing and blogging platform
Education: Master’s degree in Corporate Communications, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology
How did you get into voluntary work?
While working from home as a creative writer in 2015, I felt the need to gain experience in various fields. When Kids Camp Comp advertised a volunteer post, I applied and won the opportunity. My responsibility during the three-month engagement was to train basic coding skills to kids in primary schools within Nairobi. While the organisation gave me a stipend, I had to actively engage in my academic writing hustle to take care of my bills
Do you have any special memory of your volunteering days?
During a visit to a school in Kibera, I wrote a story about my experience as a trainer. The story was published on Kids Camp Comp’s website. Two months later, the founder of Kasoma Africa read the article and contacted me through the organisation. Today I work as the editor for the online platform thanks to my voluntary service.
What is your advice to someone who may want to volunteer?
Have a genuine motive; this is the only way you will do anything worthwhile. Having ulterior motives will only taint your valuable work. Be self-driven and work as though there is a reward. You can volunteer in any industry, your training notwithstanding. Above all, conduct yourself with utmost professionalism.
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Social Work, Diploma in Social Work and Community Development, University: Moi University
Where did you volunteer your services, and in what capacity did you serve?
After graduating in 2014, I volunteered at ChildFund Kenya for 20 months. I was then stationed in Ngong, Kajiado County. I then joined Family Health Options Kenya, a non-governmental organisation that provides sexual and reproductive health services.
Is there any connection between your current job and the volunteer work you did?
My current job and the previous volunteer work are in the same line of social work and humanitarian in nature. I got a job with ChildFund for a year, before I got my second job with the national government in the Ministry of Interior.
There is a misconception that volunteer work is not professional. What is your take on this?
I got a job with the government due to my volunteer work. Even though one is not entitled to a salary or even an incentive in most cases, the wealth of experience gathered during such engagement is priceless. It prepares you for formal work, besides, you get to interact and network with professionals from various organisations and industries, which exposes you to different skills and perspectives in your career.
Does voluntary work count in one’s resume? If so, how has this been of help to you?
Yes it does. Most organisations when hiring today emphasise on the candidates’ experience in that particular industry, and how their gathered skills and experience will impact the organisation.
My two years in voluntary work are largely what earned me my current job.
Education: Bachelor of Real Estate, University of Nairobi (ongoing)
Organisation: Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA)
What motivated you to volunteer?
My mother had been a long-time volunteer at YMCA when I was growing up. I was 10 when she encouraged me to join the organisation. I have volunteered for YMCA in Shauri Moyo Estate since 2007.
What would you say is truly remarkable about volunteering?
To know that I am impacting positively on lives gives me pride and fulfilment. Also, the opportunities that I have had to travel abroad are due to volunteering. I have interacted and made friends with hundreds of young people from all over the world. I will be travelling to Canada in early June for a Youth Peace Network’s cultural exchange programme that will last three months.
What have you been doing as a community-based volunteer?
I became fully involved with community affairs after I completed primary school. I would mobilise children in our neighbourhood to participate in cleaning activities in our estate. We also paid visits to poor families and donated food and other items. Together with friends, I organise youth sporting and mentorship events in Embakasi East Sub-County.
Do you have any technical training besides the course you are undertaking at university?
Last year, YMCA in partnership with KCB sponsored a training programme. I took up painting since I have long admired painted work. I am now a certified Grade Three painter, and still learning.
How long do you intend to volunteer?
There is no time limit for voluntary work. One may volunteer even after retiring from their job. I have lots of time to spare since I am still in university, so I will continue to be of service to communities whenever I can.
Education: Agribusiness, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology
Volunteered at G-United, a Government of Kenya programme for graduates
You were one of participants of G-United volunteers programme in 2016/2017…
After graduating in 2015, I decided to apply for the programme since I did not have much going on then. In August 2016, I was selected and posted to Seme in Kisumu County.
I taught in one of the primary schools in the locality while training the local community on sustainable ways to tackle malnutrition through agri-business.
My host family had never planted spinach before and during my stay there, we planted some that flourished, such that we had surplus to sell.
What would you say has been the highlight of your volunteerism?
My efforts to train farmers on modern farming methods got me a position as a tutor at Siaya Institute of Science and Technology, where I taught for two days every week. Besides that, I was elected board member of Ramogi Institute of Science and Technology.
I have also been selected as a Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Fellow, an opportunity that resulted from my community work initiatives.
There are claims in some quarters that G-United is overrated and that the nature of work is taxing…
The programme exposes graduates to diverse ways of life since one can be posted to any part of Kenya. Interactions with different cultures enhance integration and national cohesion. The programme took me to Nyanza, a place I had never thought of setting foot in – I even learned a bit of Dholuo. It was an exciting experience.
You will be attending an apprenticeship in Israel. How did you win this chance?
JKUAT runs a programme that allows agribusiness students to study and work in Israel for a year. I applied last year and got shortlisted for an interview. Members of the interviewing panel had doubted my ability to move a wheelbarrow, but when I described what I had done in Seme, they were all amazed.
Education: Communications and Public Relations, Moi University
Volunteer:Communications assistant, United Nations’ Women Regional Office for Eastern and Southern Africa (Nairobi)
How long have you volunteered, and what drives you as a volunteer?
This is my second year now. I began soon after graduating in September 2015. The opportunity with the UN has given me a platform on a global scale to use my communications skills to serve humanity through coherent messaging and creation of awareness on matters of interest to all human beings, not just to women.
What are your responsibilities as a communications assistant?
I am charged with developing communication strategies and policies about UN’s initiatives for humanity, and ensuring that the strategies are effectively implemented.
Since I work from the Regional Office in Nairobi, my team and I offer communication support to our 13 country offices across Eastern and Southern Africa. I am also involved with creating and maintaining a strong online presence for the UN Women Regional Office, and conducting internal communication trainings.
From your experience, how do you think voluntary work can be harnessed into one’s career?
Volunteering is an important stepping stone into one’s career. Volunteer work is a challenge to oneself, and a measure of how elastic their strength can be. It exposes one to a broader spectrum of work, unlike internship, which is mostly area-specific. It allows the volunteer to go beyond their training and capabilities, exposing them to a larger scope of work and disciplines.
Would your life be any different today if you had not worked as a volunteer?
Mutual benefits for both the community and the volunteer is one of the principles of volunteerism. Besides networking and the work ethics that I have gained, I have appreciated the concepts of gender issues, respect for humanity and human dignity, all which the UN regards with utmost importance.
I understand at a much deeper level the various fundamental challenges faced by humanity the world over, such as glaring economic inequalities between men and women, things I could not have come close to comprehending had I not worked closely with the UN.
Volunteerism of any nature has an enormous impact on the well-being of our communities, as well as the individual.