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Yaning is a second-year Population Health with Data Science student at UCL. Recently, she has been volunteering with Med Supply Drive UK. Read on to find out about how she contributed to COVID-19 response efforts and what skills she’s gained through volunteering.

Tell us a little about your volunteering.

I am mainly volunteering with the nonprofit organisation Med Supply Drive UK, which delivers donated personal protective equipment (PPE) to a variety of health and social care settings during the pandemic and advocates for evidence-based public health and infection control policies. As a committee member, I lead our social media and communications team, as well as doing some work in infographic design and fundraising. My role is constant and I step in whenever needed; social media maintenance is a daily task and my fellow volunteers are exasperated that I sometimes make announcements at 3 AM!

How did you find out about the role?

I found out about this opportunity in March through the UCL RUMS Instagram page. Med Supply Drive UK had just been founded and although I did not come from a clinical background, I decided to apply to join the organisation.

Why did you want to become a volunteer?

As a first year student, I had time to pursue non-academic activities because my exams had been cancelled, so I looked for ways to contribute to the COVID-19 response. This opportunity was unique as I was not yet aware of the PPE shortages plaguing the UK, and I was eager to learn more. I also needed a way to distract myself from the frustration I may have felt as an international student unable to return to my home country.

What difference do you feel you’ve made by volunteering?

Unlike the volunteers in our Collection and Delivery team, who physically take masks and gloves from business or individual donors to healthcare facilities, I can’t feel the direct impact of my work at Med Supply Drive. But through my outreach work, we are reaching not only members of the general public with important health information but also UK public figures such as author Adam Kay and entrepreneur Deborah Meaden, who have helped promote our cause to new donors.

Through my fundraising work, I have raised a substantial amount of money for our future PPE purchases and logistical costs.

What impact has volunteering had on you?

Volunteering with Med Supply Drive UK has introduced me to programmes such as Canva, Visme, Slack, and Trello, It has improved my writing and design skills, as well as my attention to detail, and has taught me how to respond productively to criticism. It’s given me many insights into social media, which I admit I was not an ardent user of at the beginning of this year. Its impact on my wellbeing has been immeasurable and I have found purpose and a virtual family within the organisation.

What’s the best thing about volunteering?

The best part of my current role is the people I interact with. My colleagues, of course, are extraordinary even if they do not believe so themselves - their commitment and warmth are the reason I look forward to our Zoom meetings even when we have already been speaking for three hours that day. Then, there are our donors, who range from university students like us to opera houses and county wildlife trusts, and our requesters, whose moving testimonials inspire me to continue this work. Our fundraisers make me smile the most- there are the two children to raise money for us in honour of their great-aunt who received phenomenal care towards the end of her life, the owner of a fashion company who has been contributing by selling cloth masks made from socks, and the unbelievably athletic tattoo artist who has been running ten kilometres per day to encourage donations.

And the most challenging? How did you overcome the challenges?

The people I work with daily mostly come from medical backgrounds, some of them NHS doctors and others studying in preparation for the healthcare professions. This means they know much more than me about COVID-19, how it is transmitted, and how infection risk can be mitigated. Their academic and career achievements render me possibly the most technically unqualified of our group, and I sometimes struggle to believe that I deserve my place. But I see this challenge as a learning opportunity and look to my colleagues to improve my own understanding of current events and do the best job I can for the organisation.

Tell us about something memorable that’s happened to you whilst volunteering

I can’t choose one memorable experience, so I will focus on two. Firstly, our founder suggested in May that we make a music video for Bill Withers’ song “Lean On Me”, and I co-directed the effort, which involved a handful of instrumentalists and a dozen vocalists. I never thought I would have an opportunity to practice music direction again during this academic year, but this project proved me spectacularly wrong. Also, as part of my fundraising efforts, I created portraits for winners of an online auction hosted in part by Sue Perkins, which will be one of the highlights of my artistic journey.

Would you recommend volunteering? If so, why?

Sure! If you have the time and energy to devote to a cause you care about, volunteering is an excellent way to meet like-minded individuals and learn new skills. You may discover opportunities you never knew existed and find an escape during a difficult time in your life. 

How has COVID-19 impacted your volunteering and how has it changed what you do?

I wouldn’t be volunteering with Med Supply Drive UK if it wasn’t for the pandemic, and I may have not had enough time for this role without worldwide lockdowns. The only things that have changed for us as a result of COVID-19 are that we take better care of each other and send each other cards in the post when times are hard rather than offering a physical embrace. I cannot wait to do the latter.

If you have any queries about Med Supply Drive UK, click here and if you are interested in donating to protect UK health and social care workers , both in the present and the future, click here. You can also check out our COVID-19 volunteering directory for more volunteering opportunities that you can undertake right now.