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Huda and Alia Hathaf share their volunteering experience

Huda and Alia Hathaf are sisters and based in Wales, they started volunteering in RNIB in the summer of 2020 as Telephone Group Facilitators. They are both studying Optometry at Cardiff University and joined RNIB after their University Lecturer suggested it would be a good place to gain volunteer experience.

Alia and Huda Hathaf

Since starting in their roles Alia has facilitated a Film and TV group through the Telephone Support Groups and Huda has embraced the opportunity to lead regular quizzes over the Telephone Support Groups too. They are both members of the Volunteer Council in RNIB and thrive in both roles bringing fantastic energy and positivity to their volunteer experience. We were delighted to have the chance to talk to them recently and hope you enjoy their inspiring story.

Why did you decide to volunteer for RNIB?

Alia – In our studies as Optometrists it is important to gain additional experience and perspective from other organisations related to that work. Our university lecturer suggested RNIB as a good organisation to volunteer for which would provide that opportunity.

Huda - It just provides us with good opportunities to improve communication to patients and empathy whenever we are talking to patients too.

Tell us more about your volunteering

Alia - I volunteer as Telephone Group Facilitator for a Film and TV group but whilst that is the theme we just also have lots of opportunity for general chat. It really provides an escape for some members from day-to-day life, I really look forward to it every week its an escape for me from my studies too. We love welcoming new members. Volunteering is also a really productive and good thing to do for the community.

Huda – I run regular quizzes through my role as a Telephone Group Facilitator, these are over the phone. They provide opportunities to chat with friends, I love getting to know new members and really enjoy it each week, there are lovely interactions, and its great deciding on topics that suit everyone’s interest too.

How have you found the Volunteer Council experience?

Huda- The Volunteer Council has been great and a good opportunity to communicate with other volunteers and build those networks with other volunteers from different backgrounds.

Alia- It has been great to be representing our backgrounds and younger voices, and sharing my experiences and actually coming to conclusions at the meetings. It all about the volunteer experience and we have a volunteer voice, it so important to have all voices heard regarding gender, age, background, and the wide range of people captured is so important and it’s a great experience.

Can you tell us what your favourite moments in your volunteering role have been so far?

Huda – I had a really funny moment in the quiz when I pronounced a Formula One driver’s name wrong, and everyone had a good laugh, now we all laugh every time I have to read a question about sport players, moments like that are so good to take away from the usual structure. Its so enjoyable and it doesn’t feel like a task to do the role, it’s something I just really enjoy doing.

Alia – I just generally really enjoy the role. Sometimes it can be really challenging to steer conversation in right direction and avoid things which are triggers for some people like bereavement and politics, but we work to keep a good balance and not create a hostile environment always trying to steer conversation in right direction for everyone.

Huda – This has been such a useful skill to develop, we will be able to use that to support our patients we have in optometry and transfer that to those roles and our studies too.

Alia – It has so useful to gain this experience, leaving the functional side of our jobs behind and being able to acknowledge that the person we may be seeing in our jobs may be having a hard time and needs that understanding and empathy.

What has been the most valuable part of your volunteering experience?

Huda – meeting new people who we wouldn’t meet day to day, being able to interact and communicate with people from different backgrounds and different parts of UK and people of different ages, this will be really important as our patients will often be older too and we wouldn’t have that opportunity otherwise.

Alia – When we see patients we will only get to see them for 20 mins but in volunteering we get to know people so well, this will help to always have it in back of my mind, as I will apply that when I meet patients based on what I have learned from getting to know these individuals so well through my volunteering experience.

Huda – It has also been great that a few members of the groups now feel more comfortable about sharing their experiences and have asked about speaking at universities. It has made them more confident to ensure other students learn about their experiences to help more people in their future roles and studies.

Alia – Some people have bad experiences in the past and they now want to promote RNIB more widely to optometrists so that they have all the experience they need and they can understand patients better.

How has the pandemic affected your volunteering?

Huda - We started in middle of the pandemic, so everything was online at that stage.

Alia – it could be more challenging with times with lectures etc but it helps we’re able to catch up on online lectures. The group have been so understanding about commitments and university etc.

Huda - Group members felt they wanted to be out more but with Covid, the groups give them the chance to do have those interactions.

What would you say to people who are considering getting involved in volunteering at RNIB?

Alia – Everyone should know how much you will get out it but mostly how much you will give to others, it's so imperative to get involved and do more for your community, if you have a spare hour just do it, you come out if this experience just feeling like such a better person and get so much out it.

Huda – It is so great for organisational skills, my communication with others has been so much more enhanced and improved, it makes you so happy, you come out of the experience each week feeling like your day has been so much better. It just brightens up a bad day to volunteer.