Big Issues

We Asked An Activist How She Balances Volunteering With Uni

"I think a lot of my volunteering became my social life."

Our generation cops a lot of heat for being “lazy” and “apathetic”, but we reckon that’s bullshit. As part of our I Give A Damn series, Uni Junkee is speaking to a bunch of young volunteers who give up their free time to do some good in the world. Take that, boomers. 

With just a few last subjects left to complete in her Law and Communications degree at the University of Technology Sydney, Carrie Hou is no stranger to the balancing act of volunteering, work and study. Between volunteering with the at a refugee not-for-profit* and stepping up to become a community organiser for Democracy in Colour’s marriage equality campaign, Carrie has had her hands full over the length of her university career.

We had a chat with her to find out how she does it.

What kind of stuff does volunteering with the refugee not-for-proft involve?

It’s a one day a week volunteer program in which you assist lawyers, pick up the phone when clients call, put it in record and if they’ve got any questions you see the legal advisor who’s in the room, ask them their questions and basically pass them onto the clients. You can also go to outreach posts that they have around Sydney and help refugees go through the process of applying for asylum in Australia.

What made you give a shit about this cause? What motivates you to keep going?

When I was on my exchange in Belgium it was during 2015, which was kind of the peak of when the media decided to turn its attention to the Syrian refugee crisis. And I was lucky enough to have gotten in touch with a few community organisers in places such as Greece and Turkey who invited me to come along and volunteer at those refugee camps. I got to see the state of the global asylum seeker process first hand. And that really motivated me to come home and volunteer. Because I think when you witness something like that first hand, you’re really compelled to help out wherever you can.

What’s your secret? How do you balance uni/work/volunteering/social life?

I haven’t really. I think a lot of my volunteering became my social life. When you volunteer with different organisations you meet super amazing people who you have similar interests to and who care about similar things that you do. So inevitably because you’re juggling so many things, one of the things merges into the other. For me that was a mixture of my volunteering, my social life and also working. And university, quite honestly, fell by the wayside, because I felt pretty involved in these causes that had real life impacts and that was basically what I dedicated a lot of my time to.

What have you accomplished from doing this work?

One of the biggest accomplishments is winning marriage equality, I guess that’s on a campaign level. For me personally, volunteering [for Democracy in Colour] really empowered me to step up into a leadership role that I never thought was possible for me. There was a big time in my life when I had depression and anxiety and I felt really hopeless with the system. It was through volunteering that really helped me find a community and gave me a voice within a space and become a leader as well.

Carrie campaigning for marriage equality.

What do you think about the stigma surrounding millennials that claims us to be lazy/unconcerned/self-obsessed?

I think that that is a narrative that has been very smartly created by baby boomers and conservatives to distract us. Basically just creating this very individualist idea of young people being disengaged and not working hard enough to make us feel guilty about not finding a job. When actually these issues are incredibly structural and the people who are accountable are big corporations and government. I think that’s a really farcical narrative that has been put on us, when actually we’re a really engaged generation, really socially active, really politically aware.

See Carrie’s stories for Junkee on the European refugee crisis here

(Lead image: Democacy in Colour/Facebook/supplied)

*Carrie volunteered for this not-for-profit in 2016.