Image description: A header illustration of a person turned away from the viewer wearing a green vest with the phrase
Image description: A header illustration of a person turned away from the viewer wearing a green vest with the phrase


Transformation through volunteering

How digging out bamboo at the National Snowdonia Park in North Wales helped me give back to my surroundings and myself.

Last month, an NYU-sponsored volunteering weekend trip took me to a relatively remote village in Llanberis, Wales. With barely any WiFi, mobile signals, or even halal food, the organizers would never forget to mention every day leading up to it, how ‘basic’ the accommodation was and how this was not the trip for us if we were looking for any luxury we were accustomed to in our dorms (not that many of us would call that luxury.) It was during the three days of Eid, nine hours from London on a bus, and there was, as usual, a rain forecast. And yet, it was one of the best weekends of my college life so far.
While my fondest memories are of my friends, our endless supply of snacks, and a waterfall we hiked up to, what I am writing about today is not about any of those. It is about the reason we went up to North Wales. To volunteer at the National Snowdonia Park; to help them dig out bamboo, an invasive imported species that endanger the soil, to enable the indigenous plant life to flourish.
It was exactly what it sounds like. We hiked up some more to the park, borrowed some loppers, the classic green vest, and gloves, and entered a forest full of bamboo poking at us from every which way. As about thirty of us marched in with our weapons for the day, wielded our loppers, and slashed the bamboo at their roots, I couldn't help but feel a sense of purpose and fulfillment. It wasn't just about removing an invasive species or helping the indigenous plant life thrive. It was about being a part of something greater than ourselves, about contributing to the environment and the community in a meaningful way.
As we worked, (metaphorical) sweat dripping down our faces and our hands aching, I could not help but notice the transformation happening within me, the forest we were cutting away at, and the other volunteers. The chatter around me was no longer just idle small talk but meaningful conversations about the impact of our work, the environment, and our personal connections to the natural world.
Emerging from the forest, you could hear “Look at how much we’ve cut through!” echoing from all directions. It was as if we had emerged from a chrysalis, remade by the work we had done and the ties we had made. It was a reminder that volunteering is not just about giving back to the community, but also about personal growth, metamorphosis, and being your finest version. It hurled us out of our comfort zones, far, far away. We did things we had never contemplated confronting before and ended up discovering new passions. It burst my city bubble and made me appreciate nature much more than anything else ever had.
In the days that ensued, I found myself reflecting on the adventure and the impact it had on me. Volunteering is not just a one-time event, a weekend, but a way of life. It is about being conscious of the impact we have on the environment, the people around us, and actively taking measures to make a positive difference. While volunteering is often associated with directly helping people, this weekend was another eye-opener about how easy it is to help the natural environment. How much progress you see with your own eyes, and how much of a boost — in both confidence and energy — it is. Of course, the benefits to the environment are tenfold, but the impact it has on those working is probably worth even more!
The trip to Snowdonia may have ended, but the lessons I learned and the connections I made will stay with me for a lifetime. It was a reminder that even the smallest actions can make a big difference and that we all have the power to create positive change in the world, be it picking up trash from a beach, helping out at a local community event, or volunteering at a school… There’s a reason volunteering events are a cliché. They give back not only to your surroundings but also to yourself. This is your sign to register for something new today and find new passions, and give back to the world.
Shanzae Ashar Siddiqi is Senior Features Editor. Email her at
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