By Alejandra Uribe Cardenas (She/her)

To write about what volunteering for LAWRS means to me, I must begin by reflecting on my own story. One of the only constants in my life has been being a migrant. My family moved from Colombia to Spain when I was around 6 years old, and at the age of 18, I moved to the UK.

I have precious memories from my childhood in Madrid, and most of them are with my family. My mum and my aunts have played a crucial role in my life. They are very strong women that left a life behind just so the new generation could have better opportunities, and as single mothers, the weight of providing to us fell solely on their shoulders for many years. However, I am very fortunate because regardless of the challenges my family might have faced, we have always had each other. It was not until I migrated as an adult that I realized that having a support system is an immense privilege that very few migrants have.

In the summer of 2022, I got the opportunity to become a volunteer at LAWRS. My role at LAWRS involves supporting the Helpline Team by receiving calls from Latin American women who require support across different issues, including Housing, Welfare and Benefits, Immigration, Employment Rights, and Violence Against Women and Girls. What makes LAWRS so unique is that it is an organization for Latin American Women run by Latin American Women. They have created a safe space for Latinas where they can find the support they need in their mother tongue. Through volunteering at the helpline, I have experienced first-hand the difference this makes, as many of the service users that call us do not speak English. For example, there was a time I had to call 999 on behalf of a service user, and even though it was an emergency, I felt somehow relieved that LAWRS was there to be able to help in such a circumstance.

Overall, my experience as a volunteer has been incredibly valuable. I particularly appreciated that at the beginning of my volunteering journey, I discussed my development objectives with LAWRS’ Volunteers Coordinator, and we designed a plan with my areas of focus. I have gained transferable skills such as working professionally in both English and Spanish, enhancing my communication in both languages. I have also improved my interpersonal and problem-solving skills by engaging with a wide range of service users and sometimes dealing with challenging situations. In addition to the professional benefits of volunteering, I have been able to contribute to my community and connect with other Latinas. Some personal highlights include running my first-ever marathon and fundraising for LAWRS as well as the International Women’s Day march. For the latter, LAWRS organized an event to create banners and practice the chants for the march. The whole experience was energizing, and I loved how there was so much joy, dancing, and sisterhood.

At the helpline, I have listened to all sorts of stories, some more complex than others, but if there is something that I have learned during my time at LAWRS is that behind every Latin American migrant woman, there is a story of resilience and every woman deserves to be listened to. Hence, why the work that LAWRS do it’s so important because they listen to the needs of women in the community, and they amplify the voices of those that tend to be invisible to the system.

All in all, LAWRS to me means community, belonging, and support.