As part of #VolunteersWeek, we sat down with (left to right) Hugo Roger, Soraya Boumlid, Louise Duplan and Lucas Senis – four second year students from Montpelier University in France and asked them to share their own experiences about what it’s been like to volunteer with Bethany.
Why did you want to volunteer with Bethany?
Lucas: I wanted to feel very useful and work towards a good cause.
Hugo: Personally, I wanted to do my internship abroad because I wanted to discover a new culture. I definitely wanted to intern with Bethany because Bethany has good values. This has been a great experience for me!
Soraya: I chose Bethany because I like the values of this organisation. I think it’s very interesting to volunteer abroad because volunteering in France is a very different experience.
Louise: I wanted to do an internship abroad and there was an opportunity with Bethany. Bethany is a good organisation with good values and is making a difference to help people who are homeless.
What do you do as a volunteer, and have you learned any new skills?
Hugo: As a volunteer, I sort through the clothes and other items that come into the shop. I also help out with pricing and I try to make the items attractive and give them a second life. And sometimes, I work behind the till which I enjoy.
Lucas: Personally, what I really enjoy doing is looking for the expensive brands we receive through donations, such as Louis Vuitton and Harris Tweed. I like to design window displays using the designer brands because it attracts more customers to the shop. The window is the first view from the street to attract people and I try to make these displays as attractive as they can be.
Soraya: I prefer to work behind the till because I like to interact with customers.
Louise: For me, I like to be in the shop to maintain the shop and make sure it’s in good condition. I also enjoy being in the shop because I like speaking to customers and help them. This experience has also helped me improve my English and making relationships with customers.
What do you enjoy most about volunteering?
Lucas: I think we are making a difference. What I really like is knowing that I am making a difference by coming into the shop each day and tidying up the sorting room where all of the new donations go. I think I am also making the shop more attractive. Customers have even told me that I have made the shop more stylish and cleaner. I am brining my French style into the shop and that is what I enjoy the most.
Hugo: I enjoy sharing experiences with my team and helping the customers.
Soraya: I prefer to give my time and help sort through the donations in the shop, especially the clothes. I also really like to interact with customers.
Louise: I like to discover new donations because sometimes we receive really funny items, and I feel like you are getting a glimpse of old parts of people’s lives. I also enjoy taking photos of the stock for ads and to showcase them on social media.
What are some things that surprised you about being a volunteer?
Hugo: There are a lot of volunteers and they give everything for the organisation.
Lucas: What I have found surprising is the amount of volunteers and the importance that is placed on volunteering. In France, volunteering is less important because we do not have the same culture of volunteering. There are not many organisations like Bethany in France. In France, the charity shops only receive cheap items but over here I have found that the shops receive quality second-hand items. For example, one of the donations we recently received was a Louis Vuitton bag.
Soraya: The number of donations and the fact that people naturally want to give away their clothes and other items. Not many people in France give donations to charity shops.
Louise: When I’m in France, there’s not the same amount of charity shops, retail assistants and volunteers. This organisation is really important and has a big presence in Edinburgh, and the donations are very impressive which I have found a bit surprising.
Has volunteering for a charity impacted other parts of your life i.e. your outlook of the world, being a good citizen, etc.?
Lucas: As we don’t have the same culture in France, we don’t share as much with others as we do here. France is becoming a more individualist country. Personally this volunteering experience has changed me because it has encouraged me to be more open about sharing things with people. I realised that a lot of people are in need and I think in doing this experience, it has taught me more about myself and how I need to help people.
Hugo: This experience has taught me how to be thankful and grateful for what I have. It has also taught me how to step out of my comfort zone.
Soraya: I have learned that it’s important to help people if they are in need – this will help break the cycle of homelessness.
Louise: This experience has changed me as I have learned that all items can be given a second chance, such as when someone wants to donate their clothes. With their donation, we are able to help others in need. It’s important to come together alongside other people to work towards a good cause.
What is the difference between volunteering last year to volunteering this year?
Hugo: We are more confident this year. We know what we have to do, we know the processes and we even know some of the customers who come in to the shop. Some of the customers who come into the shops often have even recognised me which is great!
Lucas: We had the chance to work in the same shop which has been really nice. We already know the area in Edinburgh and we already knew the team so we didn’t require much time to adapt as we were already comfortable with everything. I also really enjoyed being able to work with the same customers that I interacted with last year. It’s great to share this experience with them! The main difference this year, is I have the opportunity to help plan an event for the retail staff and volunteers which I have really enjoyed.