National Volunteers Week – Three Inspirational Stories

Volunteers are the backbone of our communities, and the work they do helps millions across the country access vital support often not provided by traditional structures. 

In 2020/21, 30% of respondents reported taking part in formal volunteering at least once in the last year (approximately 14 million people in England).

Volunteers are often overlooked, and because of a genuine desire to help they often do not seek, and in turn receive, the recognition they deserve. 

As it’s National Volunteers’ Week, we thought it would be good to share the stories of three amazing volunteers or humanitarians who have helped thousands across the country, and who teach us what it means to be a good leader. 

Dr. Fiona Marston- The Samaritans  

Dr. Fiona Marston is a volunteer for the Samaritans in Reading, and her work over the past eleven years earned her an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) award in 2021. 

After an early career in scientific research, Fiona became a commercial entrepreneur, most recently working with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. The award recognises 30 years of dedication to her field, culminating in her critical contributions during the global pandemic.

Her dedication, especially in response to the Covid 19 pandemic, provided a lifeline to those hit hardest by the pressures and challenges brought about in a global crisis. 

There are around 20,000 Samaritans in the UK and Ireland, and the support they provide for those struggling has saved countless lives. 

Credit: Samaritans

David Peppiatt – British Red Cross 

David Peppiatt, Director of Humanitarian Assistance at the British Red Cross, was awarded an OBE in 2022 for 25 years service with the charity.

“It’s been a great privilege to be part of the teams making extraordinary efforts to support people in crisis,” says David. 

“For example, in the humanitarian relief operations in Haiti, Syria, Bangladesh and South Sudan. There have been some incredible moments over the years that I am proud of, but equally some painful and difficult moments where the enormous challenges faced by the Red Cross have been overwhelming.

“I am constantly humbled by the local response of Red Cross staff and volunteers working in their own communities in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Their courage and compassion is truly inspiring.

“This award is not just for me but for all those frontline staff and volunteers responding to humanitarian needs across the world.”

Over the past year, the British Red Cross has helped more than 1.1 million people feel less isolated, cope with financial hardship and manage their mental health and wellbeing.  

Their work over the pandemic has also helped with the vaccine rollout. Over 1,400 Red Cross volunteers supported vaccination programmes which helped over 1.4 million people get vaccinated; and 7,878 households were supported by over 4.3 million distributed through the charity’s hardship fund.

Credit: The British Red Cross

Maya Ghazal

Hailing from London, Maya Ghazal is a student activist, and also the first female Syrian refugee pilot.

Maya Ghazal
Credit: Prime Minister’s Office 10 Downing Street

Fleeing with her family from Damascus in 2015 at just 16, Maya was inspired by passing planes in her hotel near Heathrow. 

Fulfilling her dream in 2020, Maya was made a Goodwill Ambassador by the UN Refugee Agency in 2021, and now is a passionate advocate for refugee inclusion, particularly for improving access to education and job opportunities.

Maya has spoken at global events about her experiences and the need to empower refugee girls. 

She has performed a TEDx talk in 2018, and since then has spoken at the Houses of Parliament and the United Nations. She recently won the Daily Points of Light Award, awarded to her by the Prime Minister’s office.

“It’s very important to recognise the value and impact of volunteering. This award not only is a recognition of people’s selfless acts of kindness and service to their community, but also an encouragement for others to join the volunteer community, and see that there are no limits to what one’s passion could lead to.” – Maya Ghazal