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Volunteering at COCO - Laura Cahn

My time as an event and fundraising volunteer at COCO has been not only a really fun experience but a rewarding one too! It’s been such a brilliant opportunity to work with the dedicated and passionate team that makes COCO the incredible charity that it is. The enthusiasm and belief that the staff, volunteers and supporters at COCO have is infectious and is a true testament to the vital work being carried out in East Africa.

I volunteered at COCO as part of a 'Career Development' module in my final year at Newcastle University. I would recommend this to all students, not only as part of a degree requirement but, but because it’s such a wonderful experience to have to enrich your studies. I am really thankful to COCO for the experience and also the flexibility they offer to their volunteers! As with all charities, volunteering is such a beneficial way to get involved and help the cause. At COCO this is really obvious. Volunteers are encouraged to participate as much as possible and we are really made to feel like a valued member of the team. The hours that a volunteer can put in, no matter how long or short, goes a long way in advancing the development of all the programmes at the heart of COCO.

During my time as a volunteer, I witnessed just how faithful COCO is to their values: authenticity, innovation and respect. Whilst these core values underpin all the work that is supported and run by the charity in East Africa, they are also very present within the team and with the supporters here in the North East also. COCO’s authenticity shone through from my very first meeting with the team. Open, honest and real about how the pandemic had affected the charity but how they were bouncing back stronger and with a bigger drive than ever! Their innovation, for me, is twofold. Firstly, the Schools for Life programme, the Sustainable Agriculture training and the small loans projects allow for growth, development and improvement where it matters most in the areas that need it the most. Secondly, COCO’s innovation is demonstrated through the events and fundraisers that they host. This is where my knowledge of COCO lies and I can truly say that every event, every trek, every step and every golf putt is innovative! Finally, respect. Respect encompasses COCO. Respect for the volunteers, between the core team, to the board of trustees, for the supporters, donors, patrons and partners. And of course, the respect that underscores all the work that is carried out in East Africa. As you can tell, my time volunteering at COCO has been inspiring and motivating.

I’ve had the pleasure of being involved with and attending three big events at COCO during my time as a volunteer:

● The COCO Ball 2021 in November was the first one- what a way to kick off my time at COCO! I would recommend all future volunteers to help out on this evening and if you can’t volunteer, then buy a ticket and attend because it’s the perfect way to begin rounding off the year! The atmosphere was joyous, there was a generous spirit in the air, and everyone had a blast. Meeting the guests, selling raffle tickets, collecting donations, helping out in the auction, encouraging enthusiasm at the silent auction and celebrating the wonderful work that COCO does with generous donations was exhilarating. It felt so great to be part of an evening that raised over £20,000, especially following the challenges of the previous almost 2 years of coronavirus!

● I also volunteered at the Wine Tasting evening at the Newcastle Business School. This was such a fun evening! As a volunteer I got to meet so many brilliant people and I got a wine crash course from an expert sommelier (and enjoyed a few little tasters here and there)!! At this event, I really understood COCO’s authentic passion for what they stand for and the people who devotedly support them.

● Last but not least- the International Women’s Day event at The Common Room here in Newcastle. This was such an inspiring and empowering event! Being in a room full of people that shared the same dedication for COCO’s mission, for women globally and for this year’s IWD theme of #breakthebias was a fantastic moment. To fundraise money by listening and interacting with a panel of four marvellously inspiring women who spoke their truth about their journeys, their successes, their dreams, their challenges and their opinions about this incredibly important subject was energising.

COCO has many advocates who shout about how amazing they are, and I’m adding my name to the long list! Volunteering at COCO has been wonderful from start to finish. Charities always need support and thankfully there are a variety of ways to show yours. Sometimes as a student, donating money isn’t always the perfect option. However, donating your time, effort, energy and enthusiasm to a charity can be just valuable for all! (And even if you’re not a student, you’ll be welcomed with open arms volunteering at COCO.)

I encourage everyone, especially students like myself, to be part of COCO’s mission to provide sustainable sources of quality education to children living in poor and marginalised communities and have an unforgettable experience doing so!

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