Blog | Why I volunteer



Hugo Chittenden is a teacher, documentary filmmaker and volunteer. Following a near-fatal illness at the age of 31, he transformed his life through volunteering. He’s now launched a new book, The Volunteer, to help inspire the next generation, with an introduction by Chief Scout, Bear Grylls.


What inspired you to write the book?

In 2008 my life took a turn when I came down with a serious illness. I dropped everything and went off to volunteer in the slums of Nairobi. With a small team I helped re-build a medical clinic in Kibera Slum for orphans. I’ve also volunteered in Uganda, built schools in Lebanon, water wells in the Philippines, homes for the disabled in Haiti and worked with the homeless in the suburbs of Moscow.

I wrote the book for the same reason I make documentaries: to inspire and educate others into the benefits of volunteering and to enhance other people’s lives as well as their own.

Through volunteering you build a massive amount of confidence and self esteem while developing your talents and skills. It is also hugely rewarding to see the difference you are making (as all Scouts and leaders know!) 

Who is the book for?

The book is for everybody really, but particularly for children. Anyone aged 7-18 should find it hugely inspiring. As well as inspiring stories of people who have gone off and changed lives, it’s full of practical advice, hints and tips and famous quotations by inspirational leaders.

What makes a good volunteer?

A good volunteer is typically someone who is very open-minded, who has no preconceptions; someone who gets stuck in regardless of the situation and uses their intuition and ideas to make things better.

How is the world of volunteering changing?

In the UK, schools and educational bodies are increasingly bringing in volunteering as a key part of their curriculum. Many now have global citizen programmes. In the US, this has been going on for years. President Kennedy was a great believer in it for example (‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country’) and saw the benefits it would bring to children, institutions, business and the wider society. The UK is now catching up!

I think there is a real appetite for volunteering, but there’s a basic problem – people just don’t know where to go or what to do. Hopefully this book will point people (especially young people) in the right direction. Volunteering will increase as communities come together to deal with the insecurities in the world.

What’s in it for the volunteer?

Volunteering undoubtedly gives you an edge in your job applications or statement for university. But it’s the benefits it brings to you as a person that really count. It helps you see yourself and your place in the world in a different way. You give a lot, but you gain a lot too.

What volunteering achievement are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of what I did in Kenya, improving medical facilities and providing a play area for orphaned children. It was my first project and I went out on a whim. I could see how what I did would change people’s lives. We had a week to do it and it was such an enjoyable project.

Who is your volunteering hero?

That’s easy. In Kenya, there’s an 82-year-old Irish nun working called Sister Mary. She’s given up her whole life to make life better for the people who live in the slums of Nairobi. She runs a charity, (Nyumbani) she travels, and she fundraises: whatever she has to do to make life better. She’s always on her BlackBerry! 


Get involved and volunteer at Scouts.

You can find out more about Hugo and pre-order the book now. A percentage of the profits from sales of this book will come back to Bear Grylls's chosen charity – the Scouts.

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