translate this page >
volunteering news

Meet the 18 year old who has spent over 500 hours volunteering

Meet the 18 year old who has spent over 500 hours volunteering

Zak Vansoh has racked up over 500 hours of volunteering through a variety of different roles around Edinburgh, earning him the prestigious ‘The Summit’ recognition part of the Saltire Award. From offering emotional support to older people in hospital during the pandemic to supporting children with additional support needs; get inspired by Zak’s impacts on his community aged just 18.

I find volunteering a very enriching experience. Although I was nervous at first and doubted my abilities, through exposing myself to varied volunteering experiences, I have really grown in confidence and can apply that confidence to my life in general, as well as in volunteering.

By volunteering at the Western General Hospital, I have the privilege to be able to connect and form relationships with patients during vulnerable times in their lives. Whether it be during the covid lockdown of the acute elderly illness ward, dressed in PPE, where I provided a listening ear to patients who were isolated from their loved ones, with them having to tearfully wave through windows; to during Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day where I dressed festively and told Christmas jokes to patients on the trolley’s wards to lighten the mood during a stressful time; to the surgical ward where I helped reassure and comfort patients during what for them were very unpredictable yet boring times, having to wait nervously in between surgeries. I have had the privilege of interacting with a wide range of patients: young children, adults, centenarians, prisoners; people from different backgrounds and places, many I would have never had the opportunity to meet if it were not for volunteering.

A massive benefit I have had from interacting with such a broad range of people is a development in my confidence and communication skills. The training I undertook to become an NHS Ward Helper was useful in understanding professional boundaries and how to work well in a team on a ward. Having mentored new volunteers, I have also seen my leadership skills improve and found a friendly community of volunteers. The role has also given me an insight into what to expect from a career in the NHS, like when I had to learn to cope with the deaths of patients on the wards, developing an understanding of the challenge of balancing empathy and detachment. Above all, I appreciate most the palpable impact I have had on patients’ health and wellbeing; leaving each shift with a feeling of fulfillment and helping me feel connected to the local community.

At Oaklands school, I have the opportunity to teach and supervise children with special needs. Singing songs, dancing and reading stories are typical afternoon activities, bringing lots of fun and enjoyment to my Mondays. I have developed my ability to prioritise, with myself and the team having to balance the many different needs of the unique individuals in the classroom. I also must be adaptable in my communication styles with a mix of non-verbal and/or non-visual children, with song mainly being the best medium of communication. Structure is one of the most important tools for the children to understand where they are in their day and avoid confusion; this has resulted in my organisational skills improving- packing bags, putting on coats, and using sign language and pictures to inform children what to expect next. Every child in the classroom is unique, for example, I had to learn how to interact and play with an individual with Angelman’s syndrome where laughter can be a sign of pain, not pleasure. I am grateful to have been welcomed to the amazing community of teaching staff in Oaklands.

Through the Lothian Conservation Volunteers, I have been able to work with a team in Humbie Wood. I have made many friends through this community and have developed my ability to work in a team, working together to build paths and cut Rhododendron. Helping people to access the site and removing an invasive shrub that reduces biodiversity in the area.

I am an MVP (mentor for violence prevention) mentor at George Heriot’s School. My role is to teach lessons to P6 students about how to manage and prevent physical, emotional and verbal violence. I have learnt not only how to lead in a classroom but how to ensure everyone’s voice is heard and encourage students to openly discuss their beliefs, while feeling safe and supported. I am also one of the leaders of our school’s MEDSOC (Medical Society) committee. I have helped organise, produce resources for, and in most cases lead, different medical lectures, debates and mock interviews. We aim to distribute our resources to as many people as possible to help encourage people to consider a career in healthcare who otherwise wouldn’t have the necessary resources to do so. I am also launching a free E-Newsletter here for anyone interested in accessing our resources that will be launching in mid-May.

Although it can sometimes feel difficult to find the time to dedicate to volunteering it adds so much value to my life that I now make it a priority. Similarly to exercise, it can sometimes feel tough getting yourself there, but once you do, you come home feeling like you’ve used your time to not only benefit your community, but to benefit yourself too.