At Hostelworld, volunteering is important to our team and our wider community. We employ a multi-cultural workforce of travel lovers from around the world, and believe that travel helps people from all kinds of backgrounds become aware of issues outside of their direct community, but also opens their eyes to social problems closer to home.
As part of our Social Sustainability initiatives, we offer employees 5 volunteering days a year where they can volunteer with a charity or Not for Profit organisation of their choice with full pay. For this year’s Volunteers Week, we’re shining the spotlight on our Hostelworld Volunteer Hero, our team member who has used the most volunteering days.
Introducing… Orla Cosgrove and ShoutOut
ShoutOut is a charity based in Ireland that promotes LGBTQIA+ inclusion through delivery of educational programmes in schools and workplaces and is a charity we are working with internally for Pride month. Orla chose ShoutOut as a charity that is close to home that she could get involved with in-person. Here’s her story.
What motivated you to start volunteering in the first place? How did you choose ShoutOut?
Growing up in rural Ireland and attending a Catholic school, LGBTQIA+ issues weren’t discussed, we weren’t taught or given resources to learn, and LGBTQIA+ people weren’t represented in the curriculum. As a young person discovering my own sexuality, I would have really appreciated meeting a charity like ShoutOut and attending one of their workshops.
Ireland has come a long way in terms of LGBTQIA+ inclusion, but recent news stories also show that people are still discriminated against, bullied, harassed and assaulted because of their sexuality. It shows that there is still so much progress to be made and highlights the importance of education provided by organisations like ShoutOut.
During Pride month last year, I went to one of their free workshops, and learnt about all the amazing work they do. It inspired me to get involved myself and so I applied to volunteer right away!
How did you become a ShoutOut volunteer?
I applied on their website, then had to complete a 3-hour training workshop followed by a child protection E-Learning module run by Tusla.
After that, I was given the option to shadow a more experienced volunteer while they delivered workshops in schools, before leading my own sessions.
What are your main responsibilities?
I deliver workshops in Secondary schools up and down the country to young people aged 13-18. Me and the other volunteers start by telling the students our stories — who we are, where we’re from, our coming out stories and what led us to volunteer with ShoutOut.
Our workshops include activities like leading the class through the LGBTQIA+ acronym and finding out what they think each letter stands for, sharing definitions, and asking them to name public figures that identify as queer.
We then run ‘moving debates’, where we read statements and ask students to stand at either end of the room to show whether they agree or disagree with it. We then discuss their thought processes and what influenced their choice which is my favourite part of the workshop, as you uncover knowledge or understanding gaps that open further discussion. You also see students evaluating their peer’s answers and can spot when they’re shocked by their friend’s response. This often triggers debate from opposing sides of the room, allowing them to challenge preconceived stereotypes, ideas and unintentional (yet hurtful) homophobia.
How much time do you dedicate to volunteering?
This year I’ve completed 4 full Volunteer Days. I try to choose schools that are in rural areas of Ireland, as my personal experience allows me to connect and relate to those growing up in areas similar to my own background. So far, I’ve conducted workshops in West Cork, Athlone, Roscommon and Dublin.
What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had while volunteering?
One experience that’s stuck with me was in a school where all teaching staff, including the principal, joined the workshop and debates. The student and teacher barriers were broken down for those 40 minutes and everyone got involved in equal measure. It showed how open-minded different generations are about understanding the LGBTQIA+ community and it was lovely to see students sharing their experiences freely with teachers who listened to and supported them.
Do you have any specific goals or aspirations for your volunteer work?
It’s been upsetting to see a rise in homophobic assaults across Europe in the last 12 months and seeing recent stories from around Ireland. I want to do my bit to stop prejudice and discrimination. If one student comes away from a workshop with more kindness towards LGBTQIA+ people, or a student struggling with their sexuality feels empowered to embrace it, I’ll be happy.
Have you faced any challenges or obstacles while volunteering, and how did you overcome them?
It can sometimes be hard getting students involved and fully engaged, some feel awkward talking about sexuality and LGBTQIA+ people. I try to come down to their level, share my own experiences and even find a bit of self-deprecation can encourage them to open up. Also, reminding them that there are no silly questions and that everyone’s views are valid helps.
How do you balance your volunteer work with other commitments?
I only volunteer once a month so that it doesn’t intrude on my job at Hostelworld. So far, this works well for me and the charity.
Do you have any advice for others who are interested in becoming a volunteer?
Do it! Be the change you want to see, and if you can help even one other person, you’ll not only positively impact society but also yourself!
Is there anything else you would like people to know about your volunteer work?
ShoutOut want every student and school in Ireland, no matter the location or financial position, to be able to access these resources, so they run them for free. As a volunteer, they cover mileage, food and accommodation costs so we can cover the whole country. This is run on donations and if anyone reading this would like to donate, it would be greatly appreciated.
If you’d like to volunteer with ShoutOut or find out more about them, visit: https://www.shoutout.ie/volunteer
To donate, click here: https://www.shoutout.ie/donate