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The Power of Volunteering: A Volunteer’s Tale

Volunteering can sometimes sound like something that people only do for a hobby, or maybe just something you did once. When people recommend volunteering as an opportunity for career progression, it sometimes sounds like a bit of a dead end that leads nowhere, I used to think this too! However, volunteering is how I was able to learn my skills so that I could join the Royal Commission to work on our exciting Welsh Asian Heritage Project.

Going back to early 2022, things were opening up finally after the pandemic. I had been made redundant from my teaching English job and was trying to view this change optimistically as a chance to move onto different things. A friend of mine suggested I try a Prince’s Trust programme, where I would work in the admin at one of the hospitals in Leicester for the NHS. This was only a month-long programme that helped people who were struggling to find a job that led towards a career path they aspired to.

After the end of the programme, I told the advisors that I was interested in working in Museums and Heritage since history was what I had studied at university, and I would like to follow that passion. They offered to have look for me because the NHS did have some heritage links.

Through this they were able to link me with the community art group, Navrang, who were running a museum project about the Ugandan Asians who were expelled from Uganda 50 years ago and migrated to Leicester. 10,000 migrated to Leicester at that time, despite the city council’s newspaper advert telling the migrants not to come! Navrang asked me if I wanted to be a part of this project, which was largely run by volunteers, and since I was unemployed, I thought ‘why not?’

Through the ‘Rebuilding Lives Project’ in Leicester, I interviewed people as part of oral history research, I took part in assembling the exhibition, learning how they work and how the public interact with them, choosing which objects would resonate with the narrative.
I was able to digitise the interviews we conducted into a video format so that they were accessible to museum goers. More importantly I learnt how to create an exhibition with the people in mind so that their voices are heard.

Navrang ended up doing two exhibitions, one in Leicester and one in Loughborough, and three touring exhibitions. The exhibition in Leicester was so successful it got extended twice due to popular demand. The project went on to win two awards: the National Museum and Heritage awards in the temporary exhibition category as well as the AHI awards in the community engagement category. Both of these awards were a total surprise, especially since we were just a community group made up of largely volunteers, it showed me that volunteers and communities are able to create something of high calibre, they just need to be given a chance.

At the beginning of this year, the Royal Commission was awarded funding by the Welsh Government as part of its anti-racist Wales programme for a community history project to record Welsh Asian Heritage and, in particular, the history of those Ugandan Asians who were expelled from Uganda in 1972 and who initially were accommodated at Tonfanau in North Wales. I thought with the knowledge and skills I had picked up from volunteering, I might as well apply for the post of Outreach Officer for the project. I was invited for an interview, to my surprise, and bagged the job! If you would have told me last year that volunteering would actually open opportunities and jobs for me, I wouldn’t have believed you! So far, I have had the opportunity to work at this summer’s National Eisteddfod in Boduan in the Llyn, promoting the project at the Commission’s stand, visit Aberystwyth to work with other colleagues, and my research for the project has even taken me to the British Museum and National Archives in London.

Receiving the award for joint winning the National Museum and Heritage Award for best temporary exhibition.
The Navrang team on the launch of the Rebuilding Lives: 50 Years of Ugandan Asians in Leicester exhibition.

To view photos of the Navrang Rebuilding Lives: 50 Years of Ugandan Asians in Leicester exhibition, click here: http://www.morethanalogo.co.uk/navrang/uganda50-gallery/

If you are interested in the Royal Commission’s Welsh Asian Heritage Project: Celebrating and Archiving the Experiences of Ugandan Asians and would like to volunteer, we have opportunities in:

  • Interviewing and recording oral histories
  • Helping with archiving
  • Supporting the documentation of cultural, religious, and historically significant places
  • Trauma informed Wellbeing practitioner volunteers to support people who retell their stories
  • Community contact volunteers to act as a focal point for the project engaging us to the local community especially in remote rural areas and engaging the community with the project
  • Creatives – local artists, photographers, filmmakers to help us to tell, reimagine and build vibrant displays for the national and touring exhibitions.

Please email WAHproject@rcahmw.gov.uk to let us know what you’re interested in.

If you haven’t already, sign up to our Welsh Asian Heritage community of interest: http://eepurl.com/iALGp6

Jyoti Ramjee, Outreach Officer

20/11/2023

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