Next week LSESU are celebrating Refugee Week 2019, with the theme of “Uncertain Futures”. The week is organised by the Refugee Week Committee in conjunction with LSESU STAR (Student Action for Refugees), and it hosts a wide variety of events. Read on to find out more about what it’s like to volunteer on the committee, from Events Manager Maddy Potter-Wood (BA in Social Anthropology, 2020).
Being ‘Events Manager of LSESU’s Student Action for Refugees’ Society Refugee Week Committee 2019’ means I’ve spent an awful lot of time this year simply pronouncing my job title, but it’s also been an experience like no other. Since November, myself and nine others, along with the Student Action for Refugees (STAR) core committee, have been working to organise a week’s worth of events which will educate the LSE student body about the experiences faced by refugees in the UK. STAR is a national charity of 27,000 students welcoming refugees to the UK, by organising volunteering at local refugee projects, campaigning to improve the lives of refugees, and educating people about refugees and asylum, and it operates in 46 universities across the UK. As a member of STAR in my first year I was able to get involved in campaigns on campus, manning stalls outside the SU for petitions and raising money for various refugee organisations through bake sales, as well as participating in the Wintegreat refugee mentoring programme on campus. These were all incredibly rewarding experiences but being involved in the committee this year has been so much more.
Organising the events took a huge amount of research and hard work from our team, which for starters made me appreciate how much effort goes in to organising any event on campus. The amount of bureaucracy involved in organising something as simple as a bake sale was at first unbelievable, but we quickly learnt to navigate the risk assessments, events proposals and negotiation processes involved. It’s also taught me practical skills which I know will be valued by any employer: leadership and organisation, delegation, compromise, teamwork and negotiation, as well as all the wonders of the Google Drive.
I’ve been so fortunate to have worked in a large team filled with such passionate people, and at the beginning we had a huge number of ambitious plans; whilst Malala Yousafzai sadly wasn’t able to join us, we managed to bring a number of other inspiring people on board, like Tey El-Rjula, the founder of TYKN, a start-up creating immutable, digital proof of identity for refugees who fled without their passports, and Matthew Saltmarsh, a representative from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
It’s been incredible to see the majority of these come to fruition as a number of really successful events, but it also meant managing our expectations and learning to compromise. Our weekly meetings with our subcommittees of events, finance and marketing, along with the whole committee meetings which were joined by the STAR core committee, meant that this project has taken up a lot of time. It’s also meant being glued to our phones, responding to emails from guest speakers and constantly updating the numerous group chats as plans changed, fell through and came together again.
We’ve been so lucky to have had the support of so many LSE academics who have guided us with their knowledge and shown their support for Student Action for Refugees, and we’ve had opportunities to meet with many professionals who are working tirelessly to change attitudes towards refugees and asylum seekers and improve their situation through education programmes, research and campaigning for policy change. It’s also made me aware of how many incredible students we have at LSE who are so committed to creating change. It’s easy to see LSE as a very much a corporate world; the overwhelming focus on finance, consultancy and accounting can at times be disheartening. Being involved in Refugee Week has completely changed my perception of LSE’s student body; I’ve felt so inspired by the members of societies like STAR and Amnesty and being able to create conversation with people who may not necessarily be interested in migration issues has felt extremely rewarding.
This project has completely transformed my experience of LSE, meeting so many inspiring and passionate people, and creating events which generate conversation and hopefully will stimulate some change. Whilst it was challenging and time consuming, it’s an experience I couldn’t recommend more highly.
If Maddy has inspired you to volunteer, check out one of our other 200+ ongoing opportunities or book a one-to-one with David Coles, the Volunteer Centre Manager if you have more questions. If you are short on time, then take a look at the one-off opportunities taking place in Lent Term organised by the LSE Volunteer Centre. And why not follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to stay up-to-date with our events and opportunities and read our blog for more volunteering tips and stories.