My volunteering career first started at 16 in a British Red Cross Shop, an activity I had the option to do after school on Wednesday’s. It wasn’t the most exciting, but it was rewarding and my first experience of volunteering and the benefits of it.
The years following this I typically set a goal to get involved with one or two volunteering projects with a couple of organisations throughout the year. At the beginning of my second year at university I wanted to start a longer-term volunteering project where I could combine skills I’d acquired through my studies and personal interests, pertaining to an issue which I am passionate about. Volunteering with Irise has not only allowed me to realise all three of these criteria, it has taught me much more than I expected when I expressed my interest to get involved last September.
"I have been supported in developing skills around fundraising and campaigning [...] I can contribute to positive change and [...] be vocal about women's issues."
Now, almost a year on, I have a realistic insight into what happens in third sector organisations and a greater understanding of how my studies could be beneficial in the area. I have been supported in developing skills around fundraising and campaigning. Most importantly, I have gained a heightened awareness of an issue I believed myself to be well educated about, which has encouraged me to always look to educate myself further, explore ways in which I can contribute to positive change and to always be vocal about women’s issues.
In April 2018 my friend messaged me, “I know you love chatting about periods”, with the link to a ‘Menstruation Matters’ workshop at the University of Birmingham, hosted by Irise International. I decided to attend, after a tiring revision session in the library and very nearly backing-out, but I am so glad I did - that initial step has had a profound impact on my personal, academic and professional life ever since.
"...that initial step has had a profound impact on my personal, academic and professional life ever since."
I enrolled onto the Agents of Change programme after that meeting. AoC is a scheme aimed at helping students develop skills integral to charity and development work, break menstrual taboos in the community and drive change on gender inequality through an individual project. My project idea was a ‘period box’ aimed at promoting the normalisation of menstruation and sustainable menstrual management schemes in a fun, empowering and inclusive way. Guided by Emily and Calum, it has been amazing to see this initial idea grasp the Irise community over the past year and grow into a charity-wide initiative under the title of ‘Period Buddies’ pouches.
With collective action from volunteers, graphic designers, packers, researchers and the Friends of Irise community, the project is coming to fruition - check it out here!
"...I have found a community, made friends, lead workshops and discussions and received training that has inspired my career..."
Yet, for me, working with Irise has been so much more than this project. I have found a community, made friends, lead workshops and discussions, hosted fundraisers and received training that has inspired my career moving forward after university. In June I am progressing further with Irise, taking on the role of an Agents of Change mentor. I can’t wait to hear what ideas my group have and help them engage with an amazing charity, in a truly unique, inspiring, mutually beneficial programme.
I have been part of a wonderful team of volunteers that have spent the past few months developing Irise’s Period Box project in time for launch on the 28th May, Menstrual Hygiene Day.
The concept behind the box had already been created at the end of 2018, but we had the challenge of developing it further, bringing our own ideas and skills to modify it for its re-launch, to allow people to champion girls’ right to menstruate in dignity by breaking the stigma around periods. Admittedly, I can’t recall any major challenges that we’ve encountered throughout the process, which I think owes to the cooperation of our team and Irise’s communication and encouragement for our ideas.
'...increased awareness can only bring positive outcomes in enabling more girls to menstruate in dignity, and it is a process I'm proud to be a small part of."
From a personal perspective, I hope the Period Box will really bring the issue of menstrual health, and period poverty more generally, to the fore of discussion amongst a larger demographic. Everyone involved in the development of the box is a university student, and so the platform for engagement and discussion is certainly there. Alongside our social media campaign, which you can find under the hashtag #empowerperiod, I hope the project will make people aware of how prevalent an issue period poverty is, both in the UK and internationally, as it was something I was oblivious to before becoming involved with Irise. The increased awareness can only bring positive outcomes in enabling more girls to menstruate in dignity, and it is a process I’m proud to be a small part of.