An unexpected experience volunteering in the UK...


Hmmm, so despite the irony of the title, my experience wasn't the best, I will say that. And as a person who once played a role, and has looked from the outside-in, I can definitely pinpoint a couple of mistakes made... most, if not all, are probably still being made. Before I continue, I will say this post has gone through edits of edits. I needed to find a clear voice and civil angle to publish this post because I'm going to dictate my experience, eh. So, without further or due, leggo.

I've volunteered a couple of times in the past, but my most memorial experience was in Madrid. I joined a foundation called T-oigo, where international students are paired with Spanish kids who have hearing impairment and wear a hearing aid. We volunteered as a working aid to help our partnered kids enunciate and improve their English in an informal environment. As a person who loves the company of little kids I looked forward to participating in the program and interacting with my partnered kid. My mentee was a three year old who enjoyed leggos and puzzles...essentially me in my youngster days. The experience was ahh-mazing!...I cannot however say the same about my short-lived volunteering experience in London.

It's all in the name of volunteering...

I've always wanted to help and support black owned businesses. I'll be frank- the support isn't so much in our favor nowadays. So you can imagine my curiosity when one of my past well-watched you-tubers announced that she would like to have people work for her in London (notice that italicized word, eh). It was two weeks before beginning my Masters. I sent my email of interest and was replied days later with an attachment explaining a need for someone in search of work experience for an unpaid position where travel was able to be covered. The letter went on to say that the business is not at a level to pay the workers, but the conversation of payment would remain open. Any who, blinded by the encouragement to support a business, I replied with an 'okay', waiting and hoping to hear back as soon as possible. That week passed. The following week passed. I flew to the UK, and that week passed too. I hadn't heard a word back from this person. I grew concerned and sent out an email letting the person know I had just made my way to London and if it was possible to schedule a meeting the following week. This would've been perfect for me because it was my induction week. After sending that email, I did not hear back for four days.

Morning walks in  Hyde Park

I know what you are thinking...or I think I know anyway. "No reply after four weeks? This is unstable and a little weird"....I understand. The problem with me is I tend to make excuses for people. I do not know people's situations and I try not to jump to conclusions from time to time (work in progress for that last one...). I am not a mother, I am not a youtuber, I am not a wife and I am not a "business" owner (you'll soon understand why I put the quotation marks around 'business'). What I am is a student on a student visa. I love to travel, I am pretty understanding, I know my character and without hesitation, I will brush my shoulders to people who think they can define me. So when I received an email days later, initiating a time and place for a meeting, it just became the beginning of a back-and-forth to figure out a time and date to meet. The system became pretty uniformic. She would email me at 7pm and most likely I would be on my laptop and reply before 7:05pm....and still she wouldn't get back to me until the following day after 9pm.

Four weeks into my UK experience and three weeks into classes, a time and date was finally met and I made my way to the office. It is a one hour distance via tube from my setting. I walk in. The receptionist is a joke (rude, unwarranted, unfriendly and simply not pleasant). I met the boss, we greet each other and have a little chat. Because of the uncertainty of my schedule, and the cost of tube (it's not cheap here more will I complain about NYC's $ more), we agree that I can do customer service from my flat and shipment orders the days I make my way into the office. The load would increase during the holiday season (which is now), and another volunteer (she kept saying worker for some reason...) would assist with shipment because it's not an activity meant for one person. She continued with assurance that I would meet all six of the girls within two weeks and we will begin working. Everything sounded like it would be great. ....psh. If only I knew...If only...

Over the next couple of weeks, I began to really see colors flare and change... and not like blue-to-midnight-blue shade-type-color-change, not that. I'm talking about yellow to red, blue to orange, black to get the point. First off, I was not allowed to enter the office without the boss because she did not fill out volunteer paperwork for me. And when it did get filled out, it was when I walked in and called for her to come and clear me at reception. She didn't feel like leaving her, hastily, she did it over the phone as I waited for her to allow me in the office with the joke receptionist making crude comments. Interactions with this guy placed me in a position of not wanting to even be in the vicinity of this office. They were certainly unpleasant.

On top of this, twice, my laptop (2011 MacBook KNOW how heavy this is when you own one #justsaying) was needed the first couple days of volunteering (lugging that from my setting to her office was not easy), my Ethernet cord was needed, her arguments with the postman became ridiculously frequent, and waiting 15mins, 30mins, and one time even 45mins for her to come into the office wasted a lot of time for me and in turn for her. And while the need of a laptop is understandable, it seemed to have made way and cleared a path for other misgivings. There were consistent rants on no orders, rants on no restock and there being no support in the Black-British youtube community (...with this person's attitude, I can see why), topped off with petty talks about other British and American influencers, click-bate and passive-shade talk about the youtube community. At one point, it seemed the office carried more talk than action. Oh, and lets not forget the fact that I did not even meet half of the other volunteers. You read correctly, eh. They no longer existed! Vanished. Ghosted. Disparèt. Gone. They sniffed the nonsense out before I could put my foot down and say "This is a bit...much". But before that, I did meet one volunteer-worker.

She worked side-by-side with this person for over a year. With her skills in editing videos, helping with shipment and constant organizing, she was given the title of an assistant. Who wouldn't? We both carry a name that begin with the letter R and so it was inevitable that we would get mixed up. And we did...even two days later, after the assistant left. Yes reader, she left. She didn't quit, she left. Yes... there is a difference. You quit something when you are getting paid. You leave something when you notice you are getting exploited. Even before, I thought something nonetheless was odd. (You know when you have that intuition speaking to you, but you think you are thinking to much?...that was me.) We spoke for a brief moment and her demeanor towards this whole 'gathering-of-new-volunteers' seemed a tad...hmm, off. But more disturbing is the question I asked myself after putting two-and-two together... why was she given an employee title if she was not getting paid? Not sure how it works in the UK, but that's mockery from where I was born and raised. It did not add up and I did not want to inspect a situation I was not invited in. Until of course, it was my turn...

Hyde Park in the Fall

The day before thanksgiving, I texted this person that I would be coming in on Friday to volunteer and asked what my duties would be that day. (After three weeks of coming in early and wasting at least two hours of my time because I was denied the computer password or because she was late, or sometimes even both, it was best to call or text days in advance, and ask what my instructions were for the coming day. Sometimes she never replied, and other times her 'plan' seemed too inclusive to be called a plan. So needless to say this method was ineffective...I digress.) After half-an hour, I was replied with a question about my schedule and asked if it would ever become stable. After replying about our agreed plan on my scheduling, I was later hostility-told how I had 'promised' to give in two days a week of my time, even though four days was suppose to be the days of volunteering. [Pause. Four Days...four days of unemployment work (are you CRAZY?!), four days of dealing with this woman's stress...four days. She had to be joking....mmm, okay.] The text continued to dictate faults in my work and how the faults were 'okay' because she was capable of doing the work herself because I have not been helpful.

I knew something was wrong after she used that word...promise. If she knew me at all, she would know I do not promise anything I cannot deliver. So...clearly there was some level of delusion, stress and hostility involved in her typing. Except...I don't work that way. A text can be read out of context, and so for that reason, there is something called 'calling'. This existed before texting, eh. It's also the mature thing to do. [Side-note, texting goes nowhere, especially if you are texting a paragraph of passive-aggressive might as well write an email.] I was pretty taken aback. So I called after reading the text, and to no surprise, there was no pickup...a childish move. I left a message saying that I had sensed some hostility in her text and that it would be best to call and discuss the hostile matter I was unaware of, on the phone. I didn't hear back for twenty mins, so in response, I texted back sympathy and correctness in what was texted to me and I apologized for her stress. Yes reader, I corrected the discrepancies and I also apologized...yes. I wasn't interested in adding fuel to fire, so I kept the text minimal and to the point, despite her child-like "you-are-ruining-my-life-ridiculousness-text". But the crazy  part comes AFTER the fact. You guys... you would not believe this woman phoned back saying how my reply text was harsh....harsh. EH?!

Seriously? In my head I'm thinking "How did my reply to your-narrow-minded-text, after you ignored my phone call to discuss the matter like adults, be taken as harsh?" When I asked "which part of the text did you take to be harsh exactly?", she replied "You know...I don't want to get into that right now". That's when I knew. Okay. She's really  stressed out and angry. Someone had called her to possibly volunteer and that person must have left. There is no other explanation; this was not the first time. She was taking it out on me. She even took it a step further, taking the opportunity to insult my hours and work given to her 'business'. A business she doesn't treat as a business. A business she has your volunteers coordinate while she shops on Oxford street, as we wait for her to come into the office. A business that is a joke. A couple of her thoughts towards my work go as followed...(1) All the unpaid work for seven weeks was unhelpful. It was useless. (2) She finds herself doing everything by herself in the office. (3) She didn't think I deserved travel payment because I essentially did nothing to benefit your 'business'...but it was okay (her words...), she will reimburse my travel because she has the money.

Yes reader, all this was told to me over the phone. So in summary, my work was unhelpful, it was useless, I didn't commit to her 'business' and I did not deserve to have my travel funds reimbursed...but she'll reimburse me anyway because she has the she said didn't have to pay people for their work.

Out of these false statements, she mentioned ONE fact out of her insulting-monologue on the phone...and that is, she did have the money. After miss volunteer-assistant left, the reason being was outed. She was fed up of having to volunteer and watch this woman do the things she did, all the while being reminded that there were no funds to pay her, but her service was appreciated! This petty-statement of 'not having the funds to pay people' yet still be able to spontaneously travel, pay customs, buy a new car and keep the other one in the garage for the summer was clearly false. This is why two days after meeting her, miss-volunteer-assistant left, after volunteering for over a year. Funny enough, it was at that very moment of her leaving when she was miraculously offered a stipend-payment to stay and continue to work. Still, volunteer-worker-assistant left. She saw right through this person. After volunteering for over a year, how could you not?

Not receiving payment for my work wasn't my issue. I walked into this joke knowing payment was something "up-for-discussion"...knowing now that too was a lie. But I did need my travel funds to be reimbursed. I will say, it's weird how people can be so manipulative in so many ways, eh. Employee-title-with-no-income with one volunteer, and criticism-of-no-work for the other. Something goes wrong and now there is a need to point fingers and shoot blame because that's the easiest thing to do under stress. But, it says something when a boss doesn't want to take responsibility. It also makes no sense to continuously say "I don't have the funds", yet still persist to treat your volunteers to Nando's and pedicures instead of paying them outright so that they can provide for themselves. And no my dear reader, it's not like she was using gift cards to pay for these things. It was cash or debit payment. Das it! And let me add, it's one thing to say you need interns, but it's a different story if you constantly preach how you don't have money to pay your "workers" (because that's the term she uses), even when you do want to pay them... or so she said. She traveled to Brussels in a satin-robe, telling none of her volunteers until the day before, still singing the same song 'I don't have the funds'. She then took a spontaneous trip to Paris, France, didn't say a word to us about not being in the office, showing a lack of appreciation for the volunteers. She constantly 'wasted money' (her exact words, not mine) on Wembley Central purchases demonstrating a clear difference between talk and action, and again, lack-of-respect for the volunteers. So, yes, of course it was possible to reimburse £15 for travel, of which was perceived to have been nothing but a time wasted for her. Clearly, serious help is needed for this person. It's interesting how a blue-check-mark on a social media name can get to that person's head. It's essential though to check and verify the attitude first.

I was shocked...not so much at this person, but at myself. How could I not see this shift in blame coming? Sure, I don't possess the powers of That's So Raven, but commonsense works just fine. It surfaced in my mind, but never truly registered because of how hard I was working and contributing to this joke. She didn't seem a bit concerned one day letting her know of my food poising and being unable to come into the office. "Oh...really?", she replied. "I was hoping you'd finish an order for me", was her full response. No scissors. No tape and no glue. How is a volunteer suppose to box, pack and ship merchandise if the basics I've been asking for, over and over, were never provided? For weeks I've been using a pen and a ruler to draw a steep line to the point where the wrapping paper breaks under the ink. I would answer customer service questions during my bathroom breaks and in-between readings for classes. The postmen, online and in person, preferred to speak with a volunteer instead of this mad-woman. And in the end, it was all useless. 

Suddenly, I couldn't immediately brush my shoulders. Brushing came a week later. But In between that time I was taken aback. I spoke with my mother and she was surprised at my confusion. "Rayray...take it with a grain of salt and move on. I don't know why you are allowing this to bother you". I did though. I had allowed this thing to dent my respect for people. I was confused that someone who looked like me would think it okay to speak false accusations, forgetting that she was just another person in the end. Mentally, I was taken back to elementary school where Rae was to blame, Rae was the scapegoat and Rae didn't know what she was doing...because Rae was quiet. Was that the reason why? Did she think it okay to say I was useless because of my introverted-character? Who knows the true reason why....m pa konnen. 

After this lady said what she had to say on the phone, I wished her luck, apologized and said thank you for reimbursing my travel funds. There are things she had not known. She hadn't known I dipped into my food budget in order to travel to volunteer. Nor did she know I had to walk a great distance sometimes because I did not have the money to travel. There was no point in bringing that up then. In the end, the individual who actually does the work is the only person who knows how hard he or she has worked. Hmmm. A lesson well learned. And as funny as it may sound, I'm grateful for it. As I hit the red button on my phone to hang-up, I whispered 'wow...thanks for the lesson I so greatly needed'. And this is true. I was learning something...over two thousand miles away from home. I was learning a lesson after living two months in London. Sure, it makes no sense having to listen to people say one thing and do something opposite to that. But's the silly things that make us pause and it's the hurtful statements that make us learn who to brush your shoulders towards...and walk away.

Nails. Tea. Walk.

My Conclusion? 

I began this post in I'm editing in December with a smile thinking "wow...this lady was cray-cray," Laughing at the confusion and chuckling at her childish claims, I look up and say "Thankful for that swerve". Where is this smile coming from? Hmmm, it could be me reminiscing, over my conversation with my mother, Ginu, last night about lessons. It was a great conversation. But granted, this is probably just the beginning of my life lessons...I'm 23. The trip is just beginning for me. Still, past misgivings have taught me how to approach situations and not allow the emotions to get the best of me. I'm glad I choose to be calm, just disappointed I allowed for words to dent me the way it did. But now, all you see is tougher skin....I'm just sipping my tea, and keeping it moving.

What lessons have you learned lately?