BA International Relations
Placement: Bike Project Coordintator
Organisation: STAR Bike Project
Ideal career: Considering further study in Marketing and Advertising
As Dami approaches the end of his degree in International Relations he tells us a bit more about the skills and experience he has gained from volunteering.
Dami Adebayo learnt much more than just how to fix a puncture as STAR's Bike Project Coordinator.
Two years ago I was looking for a way to get involved with community work and my friend recommended the STAR Bike Project. It's is a student led charity which sources bikes that are abandoned or no longer wanted, repairs them and then hands them to refugees and asylum seekers in Leeds for free. We also teach anyone how to do repairs on their own bikes. It's a simple idea and it really works. The refugees and asylum seekers are also encouraged to come in and help with the repairs so that they are learning new skills and can keep the bike in good condition themselves.
We gave out 31 bikes last year which is fantastic but the impact of the project goes much further than this. Through the project the refugees and asylum seekers get to know one another and form friendships which is really important at a time when they can be feeling very isolated. In fact they often go on bike rides together! It's also a chance for them to practice and improve their English. I found out recently that one of our volunteers was actually a mechanic when he fled Syria. I'd like to think that we've made an impact on him as he is still able to use his expertise in this country and his English is improving all the time and too. I'm also really proud of the fact that charities like the Red Cross recommend our services which, considering we're a student led project, is a real achievement.
As Project Coordinator I'm not really hands on with the bike repairs as it's more of an administrative role. I help recruit the volunteers, find the bikes, source the parts and apply for funding. This year we applied for some funding specifically to pay for a mechanic to lead on the bike repairs. This has worked really well and volunteers learn a lot from him.
Personally I've learnt loads of new skills through volunteering. I've never particularly liked numbers but I've had to embrace them in this role! I've done a lot of research to source the best parts and suppliers, negotiate the best deal and ensure I've calculated all the costs when applying for funding. I've gained lots of experience in communication too. From learning how to write funding applications forms and responding promptly to emails, to simply talking and listening to people properly. I talk quite quickly and I've learnt to really slow my speech down, especially when talking to asylum seekers and refugees, to make sure that I'm being understood. I've also had experience in customer relations and learnt to deal sensitively with difficult situations. Sometimes a refugee can come to the Hub having been told that they can pick up a bike there and then. Explaining that one is not available at the time can be testing and the language barrier makes the situation more difficult.
Volunteering is an incredible experience and I think everyone should do it. It's so rewarding and I've been able to put so many new skills on my CV. It's so much fun as well! Even if you have a really heavy timetable at University it's surprising how you make the time to do it once you know how fulfilling it is, especially for the people you help.