What volunteering am I doing Tomorrow I am heading to a refugee camp in Calais, France, staying there from Tuesday until the following Sunday. I’ll be moving from behind my keyboard and helping by getting my hands dirty. Along with a friend that I met just over a week ago, we’ll be cleaning, cooking and distributing much needed aid throughout the camp.
On a more personal note, I’ll be gathering stories from people. Really trying to understand what it’s like to be a refugee. What lengths it takes for someone to up and leave everything behind to travel across the world risking their life every day.
I am volunteering for a lot of reasons. Some of them selfish ones. I am known to be very blunt, very black and white when it comes to my opinions. I can be very left wing for some things and very right wing for others. I am spoilt, in that nothing ever that terrible has affected me. Even the earthquakes that have found their way to Manchester have never even woken me up.
I want to be faced with something. I want something to hit me in the face. I mean, when I came home from India I hugged my washing machine because I had hand-washed everything for 5 weeks. But I want something real. When facing problems in true British fashion I have learnt to tut, sigh, and stand in a queue. Even when I don’t know what I’m queueing for. I want to feel something.
Another reason why I am volunteering is because of my involvement in EmpowerHack. The idea of the sub-group I’m part of, focuses on refugees and health. I am currently one of the main people for the HerStory team, and I also part time on the HaBaby app. Already I have seen and caused a lot of the challenges that we face. As UX-ers we need to have a certain level of practical empathy. In this area it’s hard to fully understand and to grasp the need for what we’re doing. Meanwhile it is so easy for us to just build an app for ourselves without even realising it.
It has definitely been a rollercoaster of emotions. People definitely share their experiences and any information they have. Disregarding whether you’re mentally prepared to receive said information. The scaremongering of the media, from concerned friends and family definitely works. It’s only recently that I realised that my high school didn’t have one muslim attending. We learnt about Taoism, Scientology and Buddhism, but Islam wasn’t even a consideration. This doesn’t sound huge. I didn’t learn about every religion ever. But when you lack that basic understanding and knowledge it is something you fear, albeit unintentionally.
When someone posted, asking for volunteers in Calais, it was amazing. Now was my time to step up. Personally I don’t come across opportunities like this often. I can be quite naive in terms of agreeing to something without knowing the full extent of what I’m signing up to. I am mentally well equipped to be ignorant. When I pictured myself doing this, I saw myself as a triumph. Not just as a basic human being but in UX. I want to be good in my field. Damn good. To me, this opportunity was the ultimate dedication to my field. Going to such lengths to spend time with my users. More importantly, help them not from behind a keyboard. As someone who suffers with imposter syndrome and design demons, who would now question my competence? Then someone shares a link and your ideal scenarios all get replaced.
Well for me at this point there is no turning back. Above everything, despite my naivety, this is something I have to do. And Lord knows when I want something I will fight tooth and nail, and work damn hard to get it.
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