“I think that if there’s something you’re passionate about it’s worth finding a way to making that your career path.”
Meet Jemma Lee from GirlCrew Dublin, Support Officer at the Irish Girl Guides
After working hard to achieve good grades at school, Jemma was at a crossroads in her life “I was just excited to be finishing school [but] had no motivation to keep studying… so when I finished school I kept volunteering and running groups for girls aged 5-7 and an older group of 14-18 year olds.” Although she had been a member of the Girl Guides since she was a kid she continued to work a minimum wage job in retail often joking to friends and colleagues that she wished she could just be a professional Girl Guide as it was the part of her week that she really enjoyed.
In 2006, she took “a crazy notion” and flew to Nepal to volunteer with children’s homes as part of the Global Volunteer Network. For five months she lived with a local family, making amazing friends, falling in love, and learning about life in other parts of the world. “I experienced absolute poverty first hand, but also amazing experiences of human resilience and I realised how much of an interconnected world we live in.”
On returning home she worked in finance briefly, before interning with at World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts at the international training centre in India. While there she was involved in the running trainings for girls and women from India and around the world on topics such as leadership, women’s rights, HIV/AIDS, global development and more. “I felt inspired that those programmes were having a trickle-down effect to girls worldwide.”
When the six-month placement was finished, she returned to Ireland and applied to study Community and Youth Work in Maynooth University. “My volunteering experiences, both in Ireland and abroad had convinced me that that was the area I wanted to work in. I really enjoyed my university course, it was hard getting back into academic life after 5 years of adventures but the topics were interesting enough to keep my attention.”
In 2012 she graduated, and by a wonderful strike of luck one of the staff in Irish Girl Guides’ National Office was relocating to India so the organisation had a job openning. She jumped at the chance to turn her dream into a reality, and she landed her dream role. “As Support Officer I support 1,500 volunteer youth leaders, who in turn help over 10,000 girls and young women to discover their potential every week. It’s amazing to know that I am doing a little part to help support a network of 10 million girls and young women worldwide to change the world for the better.”
1. What is the best thing about making the move from volunteer to professional?
For many years my job was the thing that I did to make money, and my evening activities including volunteering, were what I actually enjoyed.
It took me a while to figure out a way to marry the two, but I think that if there’s something you’re passionate about it’s worth finding a way to making that your career path.
2. What did you find most challenging about it?
What I still find challenging is that I’m on a different side of things now. Irish Girl Guides is a volunteer led organisation and as a staff member I am here to support the organisation and help the volunteers to get things done.
I miss working directly with girls and young women as my job is based in the office, but I still find time to attend events and to volunteer occasionally and to remind myself what it’s all about.
3. What is your proudest achievement to date?
I really love supporting young women to attend international events, whether it’s a one week seminar or a 6 month volunteer placement, I know that the experience of meeting like-minded women from around the world will change them and will have an impact on their lives.
I was also really proud to be involved in supporting the introduction of the Voices Against Violence programme in Irish Girl Guides. It’s a 6 week programme that introduces girls of all ages to the issue of gender-based violence worldwide and gives them the skills to identify it and stand up against it.
4. What would be your one tip to others who want to get into volunteering?
Go for it! Volunteering is a great way of trying out new things, discovering your strengths and weaknesses, gaining experience that adds to your employability, meeting people and feeling like you’re giving something back to the world.
There are so many groups out there looking for volunteers, working with younger or older people, minority groups, animal welfare, the arts, sports, advocacy and campaigning, etc. Get in touch and see what you can offer. Many groups would be delighted to benefit from your professional skills too, if you have IT, media, accounting, legal, creative or lots of other skills you have a lot to offer.
5. What would be your motto in life?
Is it really cheesy to go with the Irish Girl Guides motto of Be Prepared? Perhaps it is, but it’s a good one to work off! Keeping it in mind helps you to think ahead, make a plan and always be working towards some kind of a goal.
Planning for every eventuality is next to impossible though, so when things don’t go the way you’d expected, it’s equally important to be prepared to be flexible: roll with it, see where you end up, and keep the long term goal in view, as long as you’re going in the right general direction you’ll get there eventually.
If you’re a GirlCrew member and are interested in being featured in Meet the GirlCrew, email me at Aine@Girlcrew.rocks! x