In the last of our series of blogs to mark Volunteers Week 2016, two people tell how their voluntary work with the Black Health Agency Skyline organisation has transformed their own lives:
The BHA Leeds Skyline project delivers HIV support and prevention work within African communities in the city.
It provides a safe space for anyone living with or affected by HIV, and they are able to access advocacy, information and advice, as well as counselling and peer support. The project also provides resources, workshops and advice to African groups and individuals, aimed at helping reduce the rate of HIV transmission.
As a volunteer you are a vital and valued part of the BHA Skyline team. There are many diverse opportunities which I have been involved with in my eight years as a volunteer. I got involved with Skyline because it is a good cause and I know many people living with or affected by HIV.
I have been involved in admin/reception support, the Together for Life young peoples’ group, fundraising events and delivering the Positive Self Management Programme. I also volunteer with the Prevention service-outreach within African communities and HIV testing.
One of the recent events which I enjoyed helping with was the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBiT) arranged by Leeds City Council. The Fundraising and Engagement Planning Group has organised our presence at several events in the Leeds which include Beeston Festival in June, Leeds Pride and Leeds Black Music Festival 2016 in August.
My own life has improved since being involved with Skyline as a volunteer and I get lots of experience.
I would encourage others to get involved because it helps your confidence and self-esteem, but also gives you experience if you want to go back to work. One of my greatest achievements in my time has been winning the Best Volunteer’ prize five times from the LGBT Awards Leeds.
I have been living in the UK for quite a long time and, although I don’t think I will fully acclimatise to the weather, I do consider Manchester to be my home away from home.
Arriving in the UK over a decade ago and trying to integrate into society was difficult. It was hard navigating through my day-to-day life with no solid support network. Now I am blessed with more friends than I could ever ask for and an endless range of support.
As a way of showing my gratitude, I try help newly arrived people from Africa to the best of my ability as I understand the struggles they are going through.
The happiness and security I now feel was all made possible from the skills and confidence I have built over the years from volunteering for different organizations in Manchester.
Since 2009, I’ve been a volunteer for BHA for Equality. I manage the food distribution program called the Fareshare Project. This project aims to lessen the struggles faced by those affected by HIV and who are experiencing financial hardship.
My key responsibilities include distributing food, maintaining records and creating a friendly and peaceful environment for the service users. One of the most important things that I also do is act as a mediator expressing the needs and concerns of the service users to BHA staff. I make sure their issues and concerns are heard and handled.
Fareshare Fridays provide a wonderful opportunity for people to come together in a safe place to socialise and seek comfort and support in one another. It’s not just about the food. It’s about the camaraderie.
My involvement with BHA is not limited to the Fareshare Project. From time to time, I also help out in other areas. I assist the sexual health team with preparing condom packs and leaflets. I participate in the setup and breakdown of large events, and I help raise HIV awareness.
I have really enjoyed all aspects of the work I do for BHA. It has given me the opportunity to build on my skills and learn new ones. It has given me the chance to push myself beyond my comfort zone and grow as a person. It has also helped me form lifelong friendships and support.