Gregor's Volunteer Experience with Pachedu
14/07/2021 (Volunteer Post )
"The work I’ve done with Pachedu has restored my confidence and belief in myself."
Our first volunteer blog for a while but what a story to share! This week's blog comes from Gregor Smart who has volunteered with Engage member Pachedu since 2019.
We featured a shortened version of this blog as part of our Volunteers' Week 2021 stories over on our Facebook but we also felt it deserved a full showing here!
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"Since joining Pachedu as a volunteer in March 2019, I’ve been involved in three specific projects and related activities. When I first came on board it was as a volunteer Project Leader for a project to provide weekly English language teaching and support sessions for New Scots from across Paisley and the wider Renfrewshire area. Later, also because of my teaching background, I began helping out with the School of African Cultures project, working with children from African backgrounds living in the local area. As well as working with the young folk to help them learn about and stay connected to their African roots, I also did some work with them on aspects of Scottish culture, such as Robert Burns and his poetry, and helped them put together their own mission and vision statements for the project. More recently, my volunteering activities with Pachedu have focused on administrative work, making sure that the organisation has all of the necessary policies, procedures and paperwork in place to help make it sustainable and future-proof, and to help it grow and meet the challenges of the post-COVID ‘new normal’.
The ESOL project eventually secured funding and became part of the wider national ‘Sharing Lives, Sharing Languages’ project, part of the Scottish Government’s ‘New Scots Integration Strategy’. Version 2.0 of the project has continued online through the COVID emergency ,working with asylum seekers from across the Paisley and Glasgow areas. The School of African Cultures project has also moved online as a result of lockdowns and the pandemic, and it too has managed to overcome the related challenges and thrive. The project now offers a junior session for those aged 7 and under and a senior session for those aged 8 and older, both regularly attracting around 20 attendees every Thursday evening. My work on the administrative front is constantly changing and challenging in very interesting ways, especially as we prepare to recruit additional staff and volunteers and make preparations to relaunch face-to-face services as lockdown restrictions ease .
"I’ll be 55 this year, and am striding confidently and happily down the path of a third career and I couldn’t feel more positive. And that’s in a large part thanks to my volunteering journey – because that’s what volunteering has been for me; a journey, not a destination."
Volunteering has had a hugely transformative impact on my mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. I first got into volunteering with Pachedu after returning to Scotland after being made redundant, making a bad job decision and almost 30 years living and working in Asia. My self-confidence was at an all-time low and I felt very lonely, isolated and adrift. The work I’ve done with Pachedu has restored my confidence and belief in myself and has introduced me to people who started out as colleagues and co-workers, but who have now become friends, and friends I know will continue to be in my life long into the future. Being able to help other people, whether colleagues of project participants from New Scots communities, has given me a renewed sense of my worth and value as a human being and has restored my faith in others. And of course, now that I have more social connections and things to get up and go for, I don’t sit around feeling sorry for myself even in the depths of lockdown, making sure that I look after my physical health as well as my mental health by getting out for a brisk walk every day, come rain or shine. The work and the projects I have been part of have, I hope, also had a positive impact on the communities I’ve worked with, helping people feel more confident in their use of English, more knowledgeable about and connected to their local areas, and more proactive in shaping their own futures and communities. Volunteering has also allowed me to build new networks, establish a bit of a reputation and gain respect as a practitioner in this new field of community development work. This has in turn has led to paid, part-time positions, both with Pachedu and with Roar – Connections For Life, another local charity. I’ll be 55 this year, and am striding confidently and happily down the path of a third career and I couldn’t feel more positive. And that’s in a large part thanks to my volunteering journey – because that’s what volunteering has been for me; a journey, not a destination.
"I’ve been moved and inspired by the impact of the work"
There have been many highlights and memories that I will cherish as a result of my volunteering experience, but if I focus on most recent times, then a highlight for me has been working with the older children on the vision and mission statements for the School of African Cultures project. I’ve been moved and inspired by the impact of the work of the Project Leader and other volunteers who have helped these young people embrace their African histories and cultures and start doing some ’myth-busting’ around common misconceptions of Africa and Africans. This has made helping the youngsters come up with a clear vision and mission a much easier task than I anticipated. Their growing understanding of why it is important to learn about their backgrounds, challenge misinformation and be able to share knowledge and educate others means that they have a really clear idea that the project should in essence be about giving them the opportunity to become young ambassadors for all things African to their neighbours, neighbourhoods, schools, communities and who knows, perhaps even the rest of Scotland and the big wide world beyond. And on a very personal level, I love that as a result of my work with the School of African Cultures I now have new nickname – “Uncle Gregor the Peach”!"
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Pachedu are currently recruiting new volunteers to join their team and expand the reach of their brilliant community work. To see the roles available and apply directly just head to the volunteering website.