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Mel Ozkan

Melike Ozkan, in her first year studying Medicine, volunteered at Over The Wall as a ‘Camp Teammate Volunteer’ for a week during the holidays. Over The Wall provides free of charge residential activity camps to children and young people aged 8-17 affected by serious illness, and their families. 

What do you do as a volunteer? Describe your typical session.
I signed up to be a ‘Camp Teammate Volunteer’; however there are many other roles too, including clinical ones. I went to the ‘Siblings Camp’, where siblings of those suffering from serious health challenges come to camp for a week to relax and be away from home.  In my role, I was assigned to work with an individual group, ‘Orange Girls’ (aged 8-10). As a Volunteer, my role was to attend the activity sessions organised, including music, art, drama, and archery (!), helping to engage and support the campers. That being said, you may also get the chance to accompany some campers up a climbing wall, for instance!

What were your first impressions when you started volunteering?
I was really apprehensive as to whether I’d be able to engage the campers and interact with them. During our introduction to camp however, I was really moved by the whole concept of the organisation and the purpose behind it – it really reinforced my decision to attend, and I’m really glad I did!

How do you feel about it now?
Looking back, it really gave me a chance to be a ‘kid’ again and spend a week surrounded by genuine, hard working volunteers and campers. I’m really glad we had the induction onto the programme (if we weren’t a recurrent volunteer) and it introduced us into the family bubble of Over The Wall volunteers!

What’s the best thing about volunteering?
I think it can be really humbling, and also allow you to form relationships with individuals that you wouldn’t normally get to meet. It also gives you an opportunity to experience activities that you may not otherwise get the chance to.

And what’s the most challenging thing?
I think the most challenging thing is feeling disheartened during the week, or feeling that your efforts will not really have a big impact. I think it is easy to undervalue our efforts, but also forget that it’s okay to be human and not be ‘cheery’ all the time, especially if volunteering with kids.

How has volunteering changed you?
It was made me consider the implications of health conditions on a child’s social integration and skills, and perhaps provide an explanation for certain behaviours of children. It demonstrated how just one week spent with a group of total strangers at the beginning can make you form long-term friendships, and become very close with the other volunteers as well as the campers, something that really leaves a lasting impression.

What difference do you feel you’ve made by volunteering?
I think that I helped to facilitate a week of relaxation and enjoyment for the kids at the camp; it was a chance for them to be at the forefront of our attention, talk about their siblings with the other campers, and share their favourite programmes. It gave them a safe space to act their age without the worry of having to care for their sibling, or knowing that their parents are preoccupied with hospital visits etc. 

Has volunteering given you any new perspectives on your academic studies at UCL?
It has made me appreciate that people’s family life/situation may not be entirely obvious from how they behave, but that when studying psycho-social development, it is also important to consider a multitude of factors.

Would you recommend the project to anyone else? If so, why?
I would certainly it recommend to those who are interested in working with children and/or in health and/or just enjoy volunteering! It’s a convenient way to de-stress yourself and have a relaxed, enjoyable week helping to make campers smile. There is no special background experience or training required – if you are genuinely interested and want to help make a campers’ day, then volunteer!

If Mel’s experiences have inspired you to get involved, check out our other opportunities that involve working with children and young people. Or if something else strikes your fancy, please visit our online directory to view all the current roles we have on offer with our 500+ London-based partners!