Anna Mc Cormick studied occupational therapy at university but was unsure what she wanted to do when she graduated. A volunteering role with the Spanish Red Cross gave her valuable experience – and made her an expert in an unusual sport…
“I volunteered in a house for individuals with HIV in Tarragona for 10 months. I felt it would be perfect for me: I could learn about an area I was interested in (HIV) and use my skills as an occupational therapist to contribute something to their project.
My role was to help with the day-to-day running of the service such as dispensing medications, money handling and administration tasks. I also took part in and led group activity sessions such as outings and cooking, computer and English classes.
I had the opportunity to participate in an education programme in schools, a needle exchange programme and an outreach programme with local sex workers.
I felt that as a volunteer and member of the professional team I was able to help each individual work towards achieving their goals while they were in the house. As someone who was there daily, they were able to share their difficulties and accomplishments with me.
I really enjoyed teaching them new skills and they also helped me to learn about their culture and backgrounds. I was able to use many of the skills I had learned in university and I also shared these with the professional team.
Towering team player
Something I didn’t expect from my experience were the close relationships I developed with the wider community. On one of my first days one of the other volunteers suggested that I tried a local sport called castells (human towers). This is a typical Catalan activity, and our team had more than 100 members who quickly accepted me as one of their own.
I continued with castells throughout my time in Tarragona. I really felt like I was playing an active part in their community as I participated in parades and local festivals.
The team and my Red Cross branch were closely linked. Each castells performance was attended by Red Cross ambulance crew who found it funny that their European volunteer was becoming so Catalan! The team supported the Red Cross too by hosting food- and blood-drives throughout the year.
I went on to study a Masters in global health and hope to someday work within an NGO such as the Red Cross.