Many Chevening Scholars take the opportunity to contribute to their community and this year the class of 2015 clocked up a fantastic 2,500 hours of volunteering alongside their studies.

On 2 June 2016, 27 of our current Chevening Scholars gathered in the Map Room at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London to be recognised for their volunteering efforts during their time in the UK. Six scholars received a Gold Award for completing a very impressive 75 hours of volunteering over the course of the year.

Gold Award winner Evans Baines-Johnson (Sierra Leone) completed 120 hours of volunteering for the Sheffield SEED Project on Inclusive Curriculum alongside his studies at the University of Sheffield. The project allows university staff to reflect on the ways in which their teaching fosters the values of diversity and inclusive learning, in order to promote a better understanding of diversity and equality for all students and staff.

We caught up with Evans to find out what made him want to volunteer, and what he learned from the experience.

Hi Evans, congratulations on receiving your volunteering Gold Award. It’s a great achievement, how did it make you feel?

I feel very honoured and proud to have contributed my time to a worthy cause and giving back to the UK community. It was a great learning experience for me. To have been recognised by Chevening for an award makes it even more special.

Tell us a bit about the project you volunteered for.

I volunteered for over 120 hours for Sheffield SEED Project ( I worked on a student’s engagement project on my university campus. This was a peer-led project on diversity and inclusivity in the curriculum. I designed methods to get students’ opinions on diversity at the university and the inclusiveness of the curriculum.

I organised focus discussion groups, and also used social media networks to create forums for engaging students. Through the project, I organised cross-cultural dialogues and fostered interactions among students from 30 nationalities. Through engagements, students were able to share their perspectives on the diversity of the curriculum. I ended the project by capturing all these views into a video documentary with policy recommendations for the university.

What made you want to volunteer?

Volunteering was something I always wanted to do when I arrived in the UK. For me, volunteering is part of service and a contribution to helping humanity. I decided to volunteer on the diversity project because of the importance for me of diversity. As a Chevening Scholar, I immediately became aware of the diverse nature of Chevening as a global brand. I wanted to bring students together in cross-cultural dialogue and exchanges since international students make up a large percentage of the student body.

Why do you think volunteering is important?

Volunteering is one of the richest experiences one can get outside of the classroom. It is practical job experience that can help build your career skills and shape your interests in lifelong causes. Through volunteering, career character is forged and shaped. Above all, volunteering is a way of giving your time to a community or global cause.

Evans Baines-Johnson poses with bee mascot at Sheffield University

What have you learned from your volunteering experience?

I had to balance study and social service during my volunteering experience and my time management skills improved dramatically. I also improved my communication and interpersonal skills considerably.

I discovered problem-solving skills I never knew I had. During my volunteering experience, I provided counselling to international students facing academic and emotional challenges because of the change of environment. Students were open to discussing academic and personal challenges and sought advice and direction which I was able to give them. I made lots of friends during my time volunteering.

What did you enjoy about being a volunteer?

I enjoyed doing something that gave me absolute satisfaction. The thought of doing an ordinary job in an extraordinary way gave me great pleasure. I enjoyed being in a position of trust for students to speak to me about a wide range of issues – from academic to personal and emotional challenges.

What advice would you say to Chevening Scholars who would like to volunteer?

My advice to Chevening Scholars is this: grab the opportunity to contribute to the service of humanity through volunteering. It’s the least they can give back to the UK. The experience becomes even better when you volunteer as a Chevening Scholar. You also promote the Chevening brand and all your good work will further enhance the profile of Chevening Scholars in the UK.

Now that you have finished your studies in the UK, how are you going to take what you’ve learned as a Chevening volunteer with you on the next step of your journey?

I have already started using my experience by joining the local chapter of the ‘Hope Not Hate’ campaign. I have already signed up as a Chevening mentor and started mentoring would-be scholars by motivating them to apply to study a Chevening Scholarship in 2017/2018.

I have started giving career advice to students in my home country about studying in the UK. I’m planning on being an active part of the Chevening Alumni in my country and will be providing a full briefing for Chevening Awardees, as well as organising a week-long orientation programme on studying in the UK as a Chevening Scholar.

I hope to write a manual of my experience for other scholars to help them overcome the emotional and academic challenges of studying in a new environment.

That’s great to hear, Evans. Thank you for taking time to answer our questions and good luck in your future ventures!

The Chevening Community Volunteering and Outreach Programme aims to support, encourage and document Chevening Scholars’ engagement with their UK communities throughout their time in the UK. Scholars can pursue volunteering independently or through UK universities.

In addition to this in 2015/2016, the Chevening Secretariat also organised a series of group volunteering events throughout the year in collaboration with charities such as Oxfam, the Marine Conservation Society, Trees for Cities, and Hope Pastures Horse and Pony Sanctuary (click on a link to take you to a news story or blog post about the event). Each of these volunteering days was attended by 15 to 30 scholars.