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Leigh Beaulieu is the project leader for the Amnesty International Volunteering Project. Earlier this year, before they could deliver their sessions in schools, all volunteering was shut down due to COVID-19, so they came up with the idea of delivering video classes. Leigh spoke to us about what it’s like to revamp an entire project - read on to find out more.

How did you find out about the role?

I attended the Amnesty International Society meet and greet in early October. They announced that they were holding elections so I ran for Outreach Officer. With that position, I became responsible for working with the Volunteering Service to oversee the Amnesty School Outreach project. 

Why did you want to become a volunteer?

I’m a Teaching Artist who is very passionate about human rights and working for social justice. This role seemed perfectly suited to my skills and interests and it would give me the opportunity to build and lead a meaningful project with a wonderful group of people from the Amnesty society. 

What impact do you think the activities have had on your beneficiaries?

Our online project was built in a way that students could engage with various human rights topics creatively and at their own pace. One of our most important aims was for students to gain a stronger sense of their ability as young people to make positive change in their communities. The content was exploratory and artistic in nature to create lots of room for students to make the project and activities their own. Poetry, film, visual arts, drama, and online media were just a few of the creative mediums we used to engage students in thinking about human rights.

We hope the students we taught come away from the project feeling inspired and with an interest in learning more about human rights, and hopefully with a desire to get involved in their school and community. We were very pleased to hear that our school partners are eager to continue using the online project as enrichment material for years to come, and we hope to expand to other schools in the future as well!

What impact has volunteering had on you?

The project was such a wonderful experience. It was challenging, meaningful, and deeply fulfilling. I got to meet new people, exchange ideas, and work for a cause that we all care deeply about. It’s made me want to be even more active as a volunteer and inspired many ideas for future projects. 

I’ve grown a lot, both personally and professionally, and I’m so grateful for this experience. 

Were there any learning curves or difficulties in the role? If so, what were they and how did you overcome them?

Coronavirus was certainly an unexpected difficulty! We were all set to deliver our project in term 3 to three schools and barely a week or two away from our first day, we were told that all face-to-face projects were to be cancelled. It was certainly a huge blow and it was honestly very difficult to swallow. We had worked so hard and were really looking forward to working with the kids and building really interesting arts-based projects around human rights.

One of the best things about the arts, however, is the flexibility it offers and so we used that to our advantage to imagine and create online content. Our partners needed the content fairly quickly and my outstanding, awesome, stellar volunteers rallied together, and we were able to whip together 9 pre-recorded online sessions (for the 9 weeks we would have had in person) that covered 9 different human rights topics and included tons of learning material, media (along with presentations by volunteers), and tons of arts-based projects and activities. It was stressful and definitely a learning curve! But we were incredibly proud of what we turned out and our partners were extremely pleased with the final result. 

What’s a memorable moment you have from your volunteering?

I will never forget having to re-invent a half year’s worth of planning in one week! What’s truly memorable is the team spirit that drove that week. We had a few online planning sessions with volunteers in different parts of the world. We had to work through time differences, deal with tech issues, and coordinate a ton of content and resources. Even with all that stress, it was such a positive experience. Everyone building off each other’s ideas and jumping in to help each other out. I couldn’t have asked for a better team of passionate volunteers. 

Why would you recommend volunteering?

Volunteering is an amazing opportunity to contribute positively to the community while also building skills, connections, and knowledge. The best part is by far the people. I had such a great time working with VSU staff, the wonderful Amnesty volunteers, as well as our partner schools. It was such a rewarding experience that I will never forget and that will continue to inspire me for years to come. 

Leigh’s story is a perfect example of how to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances. If you think you could rise to the challenge as a project leader, check out our Student-Led Volunteering programme.