I volunteered as a befriender for the North Lanarkshire Befriending Project, run by Volunteering Matters, for one year. After receiving full membership into the Protecting Vulnerable Groups scheme, I undertook a training programme to better prepare me for this role.
I provided support and friendship to Sammy*, a young girl who had experienced bullying and suffered from low self-esteem. I began to meet with Sammy once a fortnight: we would spend two hours together and get involved with new activities in the community. I would encourage Sammy to take part in events and days out to build her confidence and enable her to have experiences that would have a lasting impact on her life and give her a sense of release. These included playing badminton, drum and guitar lessons, rock climbing, swimming, roller skating, picnics in the park and cookery classes.
When I first met Sammy, I was so nervous! I was worried she wouldn’t want to hang out with me, or would think my outings were boring. So, I decided to make a mini ‘bucket list’ for Sammy to write down everything she wanted to do on our outings, or things she wanted to achieve. We achieved all of the items on her list, except for one – an X Factor audition! Through our time together, Sammy and I developed a beautiful bond – a friendship, something she had never had before. Sammy felt comfortable around me and was able to confide in me, which was all I had hoped for.
I noticed a change in Sammy as the months went on – she developed the confidence to make decisions on her own. The littlest things like responding to a question from the waitress, or asking for bowling shoes in her size, were things that she had never done before or chose not to do. In the last months of our time together, Sammy started talking about her future and how she would like to work in childcare as she likes helping people and working with children – something she had never considered an option. At the start of the project our car journeys were quiet, with a question here or there, and by the end, Disney’s Greatest Soundtracks was blasted to our hearts’ content.
Being a befriender is an incredible experience and teaches you things about yourself that you probably never knew existed. Knowing that I have made an impact, and watching Sammy blossom into a confident, young woman has made me the happiest and proudest person on the planet.
Volunteering Matters has given me a challenging but rewarding experience that university or a job could not provide me with. I have been fortunate enough to utilise the skills and experience I have gained over the past year in this project, and use them in an under-privileged kindergarten school in Thailand where I volunteered for 15 days as a teacher. I am currently waiting to be matched with my second young person through the North Lanarkshire Befriending Project, and I look forward to the 12 months ahead.
Befriending a young person inspires me to keep living life brightly and full of positivity. It’s a truly life changing experience and is something I will continue to do for the rest of my life. Perhaps if everyone could set themselves two hours on a fortnightly basis, then we could work together to help build a better and more peaceful world through making a difference in a young person’s life that they will treasure forever.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy