Spotlight On: The unexpected delights of volunteering

9 September 2022


This article first appeared in Queenwood Weekly News on Friday 9 September, 2022

Volunteering is supposed to be about helping and supporting others. However, one of the surprising features of my recent time volunteering at Rough Edges Café was the genuine joy I derived from being there, how much I gained and learned from speaking with all the patrons. The people I thought I was going be helping, actually helped me in a way I had not expected. This unexpectedly meaningful experience radically changed my perception of what volunteering means.

Rough Edges is an amazing not-for-profit organisation which supports some of Sydney’s most marginalised people, particularly those experiencing homelessness and mental health challenges. It provides patrons with hot meals, support and other essentials. Everyone I know who has been to Rough Edges has absolutely adored their time there and has left feeling a warm glow inside. Simultaneously, they have left concerned and deeply humbled by the magnitude of the issues they encountered, and the confronting life experiences the patrons so generously shared.

But what is it about this quirky place that compels Queenwood girls to keep going back?

To put it simply, I think it is the connection with people who we rarely have the opportunity to meet in our regular lives. The conversations I had at Rough Edges were some of the most genuine, heart-warming ones I have ever had because the people you meet there have encountered deep hardship and, due to the stigma of homelessness, are often mistreated and ignored. When we sat down and chatted with them, they brought an openness and keenness to connect. They are incredibly unjudgmental and eager to share experiences and knowledge, as too often they do not have the chance to be heard.

One lovely man spoke articulately about many topics, from his Latvian heritage to what his children did at university. The conversation led to how I was a bit nervous about my upcoming maths test. Despite how trivial this issue was in comparison to the adversity he was currently experiencing, he met it with such empathy and compassion. He launched into tips on how to study for maths, generously bestowing his wisdom upon me. Another lady gave me more beautiful advice, taking the time to talk to me about appreciating your childhood, and not taking the people you love for granted. These instances were filled with wisdom from people who were dealing with multiple challenges themselves. This really brought home how atrocious it is that these people, who have so much to share and are so generous and compassionate, are ignored by our society.

It was this wonderful connection that transformed me from feeling cold and tired when I arrived to inspired, buzzing with joy and inner warmth, on the way home. That night I lay in my warm bed and started to think about the people I had met, who didn’t have my family, warm home or full fridge. I imagined how difficult it would be to be sleeping outside. This filled me with gratitude for everything I have but, at the same time, distress about the injustice which continues to exist in Australia. We must work together to reduce this disparity, whether through activism, volunteering, or simply donating a blanket. Later in Term 4, Year 11 will run a sleeping rough fundraiser called Roughtober to raise urgently needed funds and you can always send in spare blankets, sleeping bags or warm jackets to Reception for the patrons at Rough Edges.

If there is one thing I learnt from my time at Rough Edges, it is that every person, homeless or not, has so much to offer. As such, Sydney’s homeless population deserves better.