Young women volunteering as part of Red:GLOW in Spain
Reflecting on what we do as volunteers and our impact is essential and empowers us to think about the skills we have gained.
As a young woman navigating the start of my career, I have quickly come to realise the importance of reflection in my own professional development. I have learnt that although having experience is important, understanding what you have gained from an experience is equally, if not more, salient. By making reflection the cornerstone of my own volunteering experiences, I have been able to recognise the value of my contribution as well as what skills I need to develop.
As a result of reflection, I have become more confident in myself and in my own abilities. I have also gained a professional mentor in the process, who has helped me to identify what I want for my future career ambitions. What I have gained through reflection is clearly evident, not just to myself, but also to my interviewers.
Why is reflection important in volunteering?
Reflection is an essential part of volunteering. While we can learn many things by what we do during a volunteering experience, our knowledge is enhanced by reflecting on what we have learnt in the process. It is a crucial point in community service as it can help us, as volunteers, to become active citizens, think critically and learn from the experience as a whole. Reflection can help us to recognise our own skills and demonstrate them to others- within our community or at work.
Through reflection, we gain the ability to be self-aware and critically assess oneself. These are important attributes to carry whilst starting out in our career as it teaches us about professional development. Personally, when I gave myself the opportunity to actually reflect on the skills I acquired, I gained confidence. It was empowering to give consideration to my own self-growth during my community service.
Research also shows how reflection has a positive impact on the attitudes of volunteers regarding the work they have done. By reflecting, we are more aware on the positive impact we have made as a citizen and learn to process a complex array of emotional social issues or injustices, with peers, in a supportive environment.
How to reflect during your volunteering?
As I have learnt over the years, reflection should be a consistent step within your own volunteering experience. Personally, I aim to do this every three weeks. An easy way to start your reflection process is through journaling. Journaling allows you to have a dialogue with yourself whilst keeping track on things you have accomplished and learnt. Not only will this allow you to be more self-aware of your own actions, but you will also gain confidence by learning to pinpoint your strengths.
Another key part of self-reflection is to learn from your peers and colleagues during your volunteering experience. Having conversations with staff and volunteers who are already contributing to the organisation allows you to understand more about how you are contributing to the organisation and what you can learn from others. Through this process you may also gain a professional mentor who will be able to highlight things that you were unable to notice beforehand.
Here are a few questions I asked myself or asked my colleagues in order to practice reflection during my volunteering/internship experiences. You can use the following questions to help guide your own reflection process whilst journaling or to discuss with another fellow volunteer.
- What did you think you would gain from the experience versus what you actually experienced?
- Have you been able to achieve your personal learning goals?
- What was the biggest challenge?
- What skills did you improve on, and which do you wish to improve on further?
- What have you learnt from your peers and do they inspire you. If so, in what ways?
- What did you most want to get out of being a volunteer?
- How would you express these skills and achievements on your CV or to a future employer?
Author: Anjana Ahilan, Red:GLOW volunteer, United Kingdom.