On this year’s International Volunteer Day, Lisa, a volunteer with an adventurous spirit, talks about how volunteering has helped her to gain confidence and independence.
I was a busy working mum with a mortgage, a job in catering, and a love of the outdoors. I also regularly volunteered as a Beaver Leader at a local Scout Group. Then in 2007, I was diagnosed with a condition called Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction. It affects the joints in my pelvis and makes it difficult for me to stand and walk.
Life took a turn for the worst
My job at the time was very physical; I worked in a school kitchen, so was constantly lifting and moving around. I tried to make it work after I became ill; my employers were understanding and made adaptions for me. During the day I was working hard to provide balanced meals for children, but was too tired to cook a proper meal for my son in the evenings. I knew something had to give, and reluctantly handed in my notice.
During this time, my health continued to deteriorate, I was in constant pain, and was eventually diagnosed with fibromyalgia. My house was about to be re-possessed, and my doctor advised that I should give up my home as I was too ill to fight it. On top of this, I was having fits and muscle spasms, and eventually found out I had a spinal condition too. I really missed the mental stimulation of work, and the loneliness of being at home all day was tearing me apart.
Volunteering kept me going…
However, the one thing that kept me going was volunteering with the Scouts. I wasn’t able to continue as a leader, but I agreed to take on a new challenge and manage the administration for Scouting in my county. All I needed was my laptop, Wi-Fi and a phone to enable me to carry on volunteering. As I progressed in the role, my confidence grew, and I started thinking about a new challenge.
Despite my health issues, I’d still always made sure I took part in other volunteering events with the Scouts, such as camps and activity days. They were a great way to catch up with friends and helped me to keep active. In January 2015, I decided to take myself out of my comfort zone and be spontaneous. After hearing about a project at the Scout headquarters in London that needed extra pairs of hands, a friend and I packed a bag and drove through the night to get there. My son was a young man by now, and assured me he was happy to stay with family, and that he wanted me to have an adventure. We were welcomed with open arms, and spent an amazing two weeks mucking in and working with volunteer and staff colleagues.
I was exhausted after my little adventure; I’d taken time out from my volunteering to rest while I was there, but it still took a while for me to recuperate at home. I’d made some new friends while I was in London, and was thrilled when one of them invited me to come back in the summer for a new project. A Scout Jamboree was happening in Japan, and they needed volunteers in the UK to help support the event and share stories across local media. Despite being apprehensive, as I wouldn’t have a friend from home with me this time, I decided to go for it. It was challenging at times, there were moments when I questioned whether I was well enough to do it, but I stuck it out and managed 16 nights in a tent.
After this, an idea began to develop and I couldn’t ignore it. Since becoming disabled, my confidence had taken a real knock. I used to think I couldn’t do certain things because of my condition. However, volunteering helped me to realise that there are still a lot of things I can do. A plan took shape and I decided that 2016 was to be my year of volunteering adventures.
My volunteering adventures
This year I have travelled the length and breadth of the country, and beyond, undertaking different volunteering projects, making new friends, and challenging myself. I’ve been abroad for the first time since I became disabled. I’ve directed traffic from my wheelchair. I’ve become a member of a camp site volunteer team in Ireland. I’ve been to a festival. I’ve danced at a wedding. I’ve inspired a friend to do a bucket list trip of her own, and many more once in a lifetime experiences.
Of course, it hasn’t all been plain sailing and there have been trials along the way. At times I felt as if I’d bitten off more than I could chew. There have been tears. Some days I could barely lift my head from my pillow. Lots of rest and recuperation were needed after each event, but I have no regrets.
What volunteering did for me
Volunteering has given me a focus ever since I became disabled. It has given me a reason to leave the house. When I’m having a bad day, it helps to give me a sense of purpose and to turn things around. Being disabled isn’t easy, but you can’t give up. Volunteering gives you a reason to get up in the morning, and can open so many doors for you. A few years ago I never would have dreamed I could have done all this, but volunteering and being a Scout has helped me achieve so much.
If you’re feeling inspired by Lisa’s story, take a look at the volunteering opportunities available with Scope and the Scouts. Or find other volunteering opportunities in your local area by searching on Do-it.org.