How volunteering in the UK has shown Thúy sustainable consumption in action

A photograph of Thúy volunteering at Oxfam wearing her staff badge. She looks relaxed and happy with her hair down, wearing transparent framed glasses and there are books and cards in display in the background.

Thúy loves volunteering at her local Oxfam, alongside her UK master's.

Thúy, from Vietnam, who is a 2021-22 GREAT scholar for sustainable futures, recently completed her master’s in climate change and international development at the University of East Anglia. She reflects on how her volunteer work made her realise that in the future, she wants to establish her own eco supermarket.

Having volunteered for ten years in Vietnam, Thúy wanted to continue her volunteering journey in Norwich

Before coming to study in the UK, Thúy had done ten years of volunteer work in her home country of Vietnam. She volunteered in charitable organisations within Hà Nội, did environmentally-focused volunteering, and led a local English-speaking club.

When she went to Norwich, she wanted to continue her volunteering journey. She chose to volunteer at her local Oxfam shop due to her interest in sustainable consumption and, while working there, was able to observe how the organisation ran at an operational level.

Thúy sitting in front of Norwich Cathedral on a grey day. She has her legs crossed and her arms in the air and she's doing peace signs with both hands. She looks very happy and the Cathedral behind her is very grand.

Thúy sitting on the lawn in front of Norwich Cathedral.

‘We educate people about how things can be transformed and reborn in another form’

‘I love helping people. At the charity shop, we make a contribution to the community by promoting the motto - ‘everything deserves a second chance'. That is the spirit here. I love talking to the customers about the meaning of giving, recycling and how to extend the life cycle of different things.’

Besides donations from the local community, Thúy says, Oxfam also stocks green and Fairtrade items produced by other organisations to improve sustainability and livelihoods around the world. For example, customers can buy Fairtrade Divine chocolate and recycled sari patchwork squares across UK stores. ‘We educate people about how things can be transformed and reborn in another form'.

A display wall in Oxfam on St Giles Street. On the right hand side are the shelves with all of the green and Fairtrade items. On the left hand side you can see the second hand items donated by the local community.

Beyond donations, Oxfam also stocks green and Fairtrade items.

‘In the UK, people can volunteer and contribute to society from a very young age’

'I feel more connected the more I talk with customers. People are very happy to see what we are doing and how they can contribute’. Thúy was impressed by the ‘very professional ethical procedure’ Oxfam has, in that they can recruit volunteers from the age of 16 and above. ‘Young people can be involved, volunteer and contribute to society from a very young age’, she says. ‘I like meeting like-minded young people who care about the environment’.

However, young people are not the only people who volunteer. 'It was so new to me that so many elderly people volunteer here', she says.

Thúy (second left) stands smiling with some of her fellow 2021-22 GREAT scholars at a meet up in London in May 2022. They are standing in front of the Kia Oval Cricket Grounds and you can see the green and the stands in the background.

Thúy (second left) with fellow 2021-22 GREAT scholars at a meet-up in London in May.

In the spirit of giving every item a second chance, Thúy makes a special effort in the shop to sell CDs and records. ‘Now, from a young age, we play music digitally’, she says. That’s why, when customers come in, she always makes a special effort to ask them about their music taste so that she can help them pick out something to extend its life.

‘The Gift Aid scheme encourages people to recycle’

Thúy also speaks highly of Gift Aid in the UK. It’s a government scheme that allows charities, such as Oxfam, to reclaim the basic rate tax donors pay as UK taxpayers. In simple terms, it means that Oxfam can claim 25p of tax for every £1 worth of donations at no extra cost to the donor. All they need to do is complete a Gift Aid declaration. ‘I feel that it is a great scheme to recognise people’s contribution. It encourages people to recycle and to extend the lives and longevity of single products’.

‘I realised a vision of what I want to do in the future. Someday, I can establish my own eco supermarket’

While volunteering at Oxfam, Thúy says there was a big moment for her. ‘One time, I realised a vision of what I want to do in the future’. Although previously interested in working directly on climate change projects, she realised she could build something of her own. ‘Someday, I can establish my own eco supermarket, where people recycle and receive green products based on natural and environmentally friendly materials. The spirit of living in harmony with nature will be the slogan’.

‘Volunteering at Oxfam has helped me to connect with a community that cares about the environment'

‘My dream is building up piece by piece. My goal is to become a specialist in environmental sustainability, which is why I chose to do my master’s in climate change. My experience volunteering at Oxfam has helped me to connect with a community that cares about the environment. I feel that my contribution here has been recognised and I know in my heart that what I am doing is the right path for me’.

‘I feel proud that my work inspires friends to change their shopping habits’

In addition to the work that she does volunteering at Oxfam, Thúy proactively makes an effort to connect the charity shop where she works with a growing customer base. ‘Besides the [usual] customers, I also connected with my friends through my private Instagram’. When Thúy finds ‘cute’ or ‘wonderful’ things, including some ‘high-value’ items, she uploads photographs and videos to her story so that her friends can go into the shop and buy those items. ‘Instead of choosing fast fashion, some of my friends have decided to shop at my shop’, she explains. ‘Instagram is a great way to share information. I feel proud that my work inspires my student friends to change their shopping habits and that I can share a place where they can shop while living on a budget.’

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GREAT Scholarships are scholarships to UK universities across a variety of subjects, for students from 18 countries. Applications for 2023/24 open October 2022.

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