Volunteering is a great way to learn new skills, meet new people and give back to your community. There are so many different charities to choose from meaning there’s something for everyone. There are endless skills that you can learn throughout this experience all of which are invaluable qualities to have. 

I volunteered at the Riding for the Disabled Association for a year as part of my gold Duke of Edinburgh award. This is a charity that teaches disabled people to ride horses. Saturday afternoons (which is when I did my volunteering) were when children had riding lessons. I had various roles throughout each afternoon and I became much more trusted with these tasks throughout my year spent with the organisation. Some of my roles were tacking up the ponies, mucking out the stables, general yard duties, leading the ponies during the ride and being a side walker to support the children throughout their ride. 

The most valuable thing that I gained from this experience was self-confidence. Before starting with this charity, my ability to talk to strangers was average at best and my self-confidence was lacking. As I spent a year with this charity, I became a very trusted volunteer and was often appointed some of the more challenging tasks. I realised that I am capable of great things and that I needed to believe in myself as much as others do. I would be paired with some of the more difficult ponies or with the riders who could be slightly more challenging to work with. I realised that I am a very adaptable person and can stay calm in stressful situations. My volunteering really pushed me out of my comfort zone and I was in a completely new environment to anything I had been in before. I feel that one of the reasons I was successful in my interviews was that I truly believed that I deserved a place on the veterinary medicine course so I was able to convince my interviewers that that was the case. If I hadn’t done my volunteering, I wouldn’t have grown as a person and had the self-confidence that I did. These are both things that were useful not only for my interviews but also for my daily life. Self confidence and belief are amazing qualities to have and lead the way for success. We need to believe in ourselves if we want anyone else to also believe in us. It is hard to change a mindset from one of self-doubt to self-confidence but it can be done – particularly with the help of a new environment where there are challenges to be overcome. 

This experience was the first time I truly understood the value of teamwork. I am a very independent person who prefers to work on my own. However, during my time at RDA I came to realise how crucial it is to work in a team. Although everyone may do all of their tasks on their own, everyone’s roles are so interconnected that it is vital for each person to complete their work to the best of their ability and on time in order to ensure the smooth running of everyone’s work. Also, sometimes there may be something to do that requires more than one pair of hands which is when you need to have people you know you can rely on to help. When we worked as a team, the workload was reduced, the lessons provided were of a better quality, the riders had a more enjoyable time and it was much less stressful. Veterinary medicine is exactly the same! Throughout the day, there are so many different people to collaborate with and all of them are just as important as each other if the job is to be done properly. There will be times when things don’t go to plan or there will be people who are harder to work with than others. But it is impossible to not work as a team. 

With teamwork comes communication – you cannot have a successful team without efficient communication. During my volunteering, I learnt how to communicate in many different ways. Many of the children didn’t communicate verbally and so it was much more effective for me to try to communicate using their methods. Where possible I would use hand gestures to explain to them what they needed to do. Adapting the way in which we communicate is difficult and can take a long time to figure out something that works well. But it is really important that we are able to recognise when the way we are communicating with someone isn’t working so we can change our methods to better suit the individual. This will not only make us but veterinarians but also better individuals in our personal lives. 

To conclude, voluntary work is an amazing way to better not only yourself but also the people who you interact with whilst you are a member of that charity. You are able to develop and improve on your own skills whilst helping others at the same time. There are endless things to gain from volunteering and I urge everyone to find a charity close to their heart and help in whatever way they can. Volunteering at a charity with animals, such as RDA or an animal shelter, is really useful because you will also be able to use it as part of your animal husbandry work experience. If volunteering at any animal charity isn’t something you’re able to do, any charity will be just as good! In all voluntary work you will learn the importance of teamwork, communication, listening and so many other invaluable skills. As long as you learn from your volunteering and reflect upon your experience, it will be useful to you both within veterinary medicine and also within your personal life.

Written By Bronte Griffin

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