Getting a stable income, when you have an unstable illness can be hard. From introducing yourself to an employer as a reliable worker, to keeping that reputation with sick leave from work, how do you balance it? For me, I believe in using volunteer work to get the experience you need and showing you are capable of the work. A volunteer role need not just be ‘typical volunteer work in an organisation. The role of an intern or ‘work-experience’ can be just as helpful for finding your way. These opportunities are great for meeting potential employers and establishing with everyone, including yourself, that you are indeed able to fill the role. Sure, financially it is hard, but in the long run it is definitely worth it.

Be Flexible

It was Valentine’s Day this year, 14th Feb 2018, was the official date my dreams of being a primary school teacher came to a close. From there I had to think quickly and seriously what I wanted to do. In two weeks the first university semester of the year would begin. Before then I needed to know what I was going to do with my life, what options were available for me. To do this, I realised I needed to see what opportunities were open to me in every avenue I could think of. The truth of my illness is that the extent of my Lupus Cerebritis meant that I would need to find a new supportive role for my knowledge of the education industry. With the prompting of some university mentors and academic staff I was able to discover a vast potential for work as an Educator or in Education Support, without actually being a teacher. Thus began my volunteer work as a Teacher’s Aide in one school, as well as a volunteer with Museums, Galleries, SciTech and temporary festivals.


Why Volunteer?

While it is true a volunteer or intern position does not pay, it will introduce you to people in the field you want to enter. On a mental health level, it gets you out of the house, out of your comfort zone a little, gives your day a purpose and helps you to develop new skills. I have found there is nothing that can be lost by volunteering. Admittedly, on the Friday and Saturday after my most recent Rituximab chemotherapy I was assigned the parcel pick-up at Perth Garden Festival. Carrying bags of fertiliser, roses and baby trees was not the ideal for my body after a high dose of immunosuppressant. But apart from that, I was able to go to a wonderful show and pin a meaningful way. That made the ensuing cold so unbelievably worth it. People will never get angry at you for the hours you work as a volunteer because you are committing your time when you don’t have to. People appreciate this so much.


How Does This Help My Finances?

I guess you really need to be at peace with this pathway. Once you get on it you really need to ride it out. This is not just a short-term decision and it does not pay. I do not have an income, and I am only able to accept this lifestyle because I am a student. In June I will cease being a student. After this I will have to find some way to support my life. Currently I am on a Student Allowance of some sort from Centrelink. In a calendar or financial year, I receive less than $10 000 and it is hard. When I began on this path I have committed to living this lifestyle until at least January 2019. That is almost a year. But my student allowance ends soon and I will need to decide what to do then.


How Much Do I Volunteer of My Time and Energy?

As a volunteer I only donate 10 to 15 hours of my time each week, unless I apply to a short-term festival. I limit myself to half-days where possible and try to only take on two or three at a time, again unless there is a festival. Why don’t I do more? Because I have Lupus. Why don’t I try to look for paid work? I do, but when I cannot get it, I also have these going on to help me feel active and involved. To be perfectly honest, I have found the most taxing part about the work involved in being a volunteer is getting to and from the site. An employer will never give volunteers hard tasks, that is what the paid staff is there for.


What Do I Get Back From Volunteering?

So far I have confirmed you do not get paid, and you may become unwell like I did, from donating your time and energy. But volunteers get so much from their work. Remember, an internship or work-experience role is volunteer work to remember. From my roles I have been offered two jobs this year alone. Currently I am a regular volunteer at the Museum of WA and at Scitech and the Planetarium, which means I will have the first opportunity to apply for any new job openings within their organisations. I also have a pile of references for my resumé now, and have the potential to meet more prospective employers ‘on the job’. If the role is temporary or short-term, you receive a certificate and will go on the organisations records for future opportunities, and can also apply to work with the organisations you volunteered for.


How Will It Affect Me?

The only real word of warning I can give you, and it is a big word of warning, is to look after yourself. Keep in your mind the fact that you are not being paid and are not expected to over-work yourself. Take things easy. Enjoy the chance to help, be involved and meet new people, without committing to any task that is beyond you or makes you feel uncomfortable. I know an immense amount of volunteer roles that do not require you to be physically active. And, as mentioned above, you are offering your time and energy. You are not being asked to commit to anything you are incapable of, anything that takes too much out of you, or anything that makes you uncomfortable.


What Kind of Volunteer Roles Are Available?

At the museums and galleries, you can perform your duties seated. At some health organisations and foundations, you may be asked to commit as a conversationalist. These opportunities require you to contact isolated people with your condition regularly and simply have a chat. In my past I have volunteered in a number of schools, sports centers and early learning centers. For a time, I was a Foster Carer at the Cat Haven in Shenton Park, housing cats awaiting their ‘furrever homes’. At the Shenton Park Dog Refuge you can apply to be a dog walker. The staff at all second-hand, donated item stores (St. Vinnie’s, Salvation Army, Good Sammy’s etc) are volunteers, the Cancer Council takes volunteers, as do hospitals, nursing homes and other not-for-profit and carer organisations. If you are in doubt, just ask!

I hope this helps and I hope at some point in the future, you are able to find your way to volunteering your time. More so, I hope you are able to find work through your volunteering.

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