Above: Dame Allan's Sixth Form Volunteers, Back (L-R), Megan, Arwen, Maya. Front (L - R), Arta, Aaron, Shizey
To mark International Volunteer Day (December 5th), pupils at Dame Allan’s Schools share their experiences of volunteering in their local communities.
A budding medic who plays her violin for elderly care home residents and a talented equestrian who mentors at an inner city riding school are among the 27 Sixth Form pupils at Dame Allan’s Schools who dedicate time each week to volunteering.
Arta Al Bashir, 16, from Scotswood, Newcastle, takes time away from her A Level studies in biology, chemistry and psychology to visit residents at St Catherine’s Care Home, on West Road. She has helped make a difference to people’s lives there since September.
"I like to talk with residents or play games and puzzles with those who don’t have family that are able to visit very often; sometimes I take my violin to play for them as they enjoy that! It’s a joy to be there and I feel like I’m giving something back to the community whenever I help,” enthused Arta, who hopes to study Medicine at university.
"I’ve gained a lot of experience and new skills at St Catherine’s, and it has really helped me to be more empathetic to the needs of those in a healthcare environment.”
Like Arta, fellow Year 12 pupil Shizey Choudhry, from Elswick, gives her time to visit residents at St Catherine’s, having previously volunteered at a local primary school. She is also studying biology, chemistry and psychology at A Level with plans to work in the field of science.
She said: “I think volunteering is incredibly important, especially given how isolated some people became after the Covid-19 pandemic; it creates a sense of responsibility and community.
"Volunteering has such a positive impact on yourself and on others and it encourages people to be more understanding and kind towards one another.”
Arta and Shizey volunteer as part of a community service programme run in Dame Allan’s Sixth Form. The programme allows pupils to gain valuable work experience whilst giving back to their community.
The school’s dedicated careers service works with several volunteering partners, including primary schools and charitable organisations, although students are encouraged to arrange their own placements in an environment that suits their interests.
Aaron Law, who is studying biology, chemistry and physics at A Level with hopes to become an equine vet, has chosen to be a volunteer mentor at Stepney Bank Stables, a riding school and charitable community project that offers young people the chance to care for and ride horses.
The 16 year old, from Newcastle, has been volunteering at the stables since learning to ride at the age of eight. He said: “It provides a fantastic opportunity to deepen my own knowledge around horses while allowing me to help young people less fortunate than others to gain confidence around people and animals.
"Volunteering has opened so many doors to new experiences and opportunities. Not only am I learning valuable life skills, but I feel like I’m doing my bit for charity because Stepney simply wouldn’t function like it does without the help of all its volunteers.”
Year 13 pupil Arwen Jenkins opted to volunteer at Newcastle’s West End Women and Girls Centre, an open access centre that works to create positive social change within the community.
Arwen, who is taking A Levels in English literature, French and psychology with aspirations of a career in the field of international relations, said: “The opportunity to work within the Women and Girls Centre stuck out to me because of my own personal interest in gender politics, but more importantly, because I respected and agreed with their values and the brilliant work they do as a community centre.”
She has attended the centre each week since September to help organise and run activities for young girls in Kids' Club.
"Volunteering has given me a personal insight into my local community that books can’t compare to, and it’s taught me that volunteer work is an essential part of growth in character and perspective,” said Arwen, from Blyth in Northumberland.
"Observing the pure generosity and kindness in the staff - the time and money they devote to bettering their community and being a part of it - is something special and eye opening.”
Year 12 pupil Megan Forbes volunteers at her local primary school in Allendale where she was a pupil before joining Dame Allan’s in Year 7. The 17 year old, who is taking history, maths and politics at A Level, said: “It’s great to go back to my old school, see the teachers that once taught me and help the pupils learn in the same way I remember when older volunteers helped me. I feel like I’m giving something back to the community that’s been so important to my family over the years.”
Megan also volunteered at a South African school in Eswatini over the summer. She added: “It’s been heartening to see that no matter where you are in the world, young children are so similar… they are happy and eager to learn!
“Working at Allendale Primary School is, of course, an entirely different experience to the school in Eswatini, but it is still great to see that when you volunteer and help it can make a real difference to others.”
Will Scott, Principal at Dame Allan’s Schools, said: “Having a sense of community is at the heart of Dame Allan’s Schools’ ethos and gives our pupils a feeling of belonging and of purpose.
"Every year, our Sixth Form pupils find deep fulfilment in the volunteer work they carry out in the community. Their good deeds not only give them a healthy sense of accomplishment but provide them with transferable skills that will serve them well in their lives and careers. The Schools feel a huge sense of pride in the time our pupils selflessly give to others and year after year we feel encouraged by the healthy numbers of pupils wanting to volunteer.”