The Tab meets some of the volunteers making an impact in Cambridge with Student Community Action
If you’ve never heard of Student Community Action Cambridge (SCA), you really should. It’s a volunteering service in Cambridge which allows Cambridge students to make a tangible impact to the community. They run a whole host of projects, from homework help to craft sessions to taking kids to the park. The volunteers are matched with individuals’ interests, and often ask SCA to provide them with volunteers to do really specific (and useful) things, like looking after the kids while they do their weekly shop. This means that the volunteers are invaluable, and students can end up becoming really good friends with the individuals and families they help.
Let’s be honest: it’s easy to get wrapped up in the world of supervisions, seminars and lectures and forget there’s a city out there beyond the confines of the Porters’ Lodge. I mean, I haven’t left my room today. So to encourage you to escape the bubble, we’re going to profile a series of SCA volunteers over the next few weeks to tell you a little bit about their experiences.
‘Big Sibs’ Project Leader
What do you do with SCA, and why did you get involved?
I’ve worked with SCA for a year and half now, I do more administrative work for the project now but I started off as a Big Sib volunteer. I saw all my friends getting involved in sports and theatre and it wasn’t something I thought I’d enjoy doing. I got matched with a young boy who was six at the time, and his younger brother has Down’s Syndrome. Their family situation is difficult – they had a Big Sib for their older sister but she became too old for the program, so I started looking after the younger brother every week for an hour or two.
How do they match volunteers with individuals and families?
I went in to the SCA office (on Pembroke Street) and the organisers sat me down, offered me tea, and asked me my interests. It meant they could fit my profile with one of the projects. It’s not like ‘picking a child’, but they match your skills and wants from the project, with the skills and wants of somebody on the other side as well.
What’s your experience of the project been?
I don’t work with them anymore but it was the most fun, the most rewarding thing I think I’ve ever done at Cambridge. The boy I worked with got very attached to me very quickly – little things, like he would pester his mum and say, ‘when’s Anthony coming! When’s his next visit!’ Although i started off as a volunteer, I became a family friend. I think that’s something, now being a project leader, that I can see the volunteers doing as well.
What do you think the family gets out of the experience?
It depends on the family. There’s one family which, without our help, couldn’t do their weekly shop. The mother has two children, one of which is disabled and in a wheelchair, and the other has autism, and she’s a single mum. without our volunteer going one or two hours a week, they physically can’t do their shop.
For others, it’s giving that child their very first friend in life. Lots of the children we work with have disabilities and they find themselves very isolated, and having this person who gives them devoted attention for a small amount of time a week makes a world of difference. Lots of our volunteers say that the children make friends at school after developing their social skills with our volunteers. They learn life skills – like bike riding and swimming – but they also learn interpersonal skills, like learning how to share and lose games.
And we can provide good role models for them – they may have positive role models in their families, but they may not. We get lots of families referred from abusive households, and lots of of families request male volunteers – in fact, we lack male volunteers. Lots of families want a positive male role model in the family, which doesn’t put pressure on you whatsoever but a lot of families really appreciate that.
Does it help humanise Cambridge students?
I think I put a face to the Cambridge student, I think all our volunteers do that. They go in not as a Cambridge student but as a friend, especially with Big Sibs. They go in to be a nice person.
Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) volunteer
What do you do with SCA?
As part of SCA I do the TESL scheme, where I go to the house of two Turkish boys every week – one is 5, one is 9. I help them with their homework, play with them, for around one or two hours every week.
What’s your experience been of the project?
It’s definitely developed – at first i was only helping the older boy, who was shier. His english wasn’t quite as advanced and he didn’t really know me, and I found it quite awkward at first. Now, though, it’s so much fun, especially spending time with both of them. Sometimes the older one can explain things to the younger one, it’s really nice to involve them both! It’s really rewarding, and I’m really excited to carry on.
It’s quite cute, the fact that when I’m there, the brothers speak to each other in English. I actually had to help the family fill in their youngest child’s primary school application. It also makes me feel so helpful!
Has it been useful?
I didn’t originally apply for the project but I study languages, and I’ve been applying to teach english on my year abroad and doing this is really helpful. It’s not like i was planning on it being relevant, I didn’t really expect it to be!
I just find it so rewarding! The fact that my relationship with them has developed, also also that you escape the bubble. You see children playing, you can hear languages that aren’t english – it’s like leaving the bubble without getting the train anywhere.
Want to get involved? Here’s the link to the SCA website where you can go to sign up to the mailing list. There’s a lack of male volunteers, in particular, so if you’re a man and want to do some good, please sign up!