Why volunteer? - Kai Yuen Wong and David Peace

Why volunteer? - Kai Yuen Wong and David Peace

  • Kai and David
    Kai Yuen Wong and David Peace

We spoke to Kai Yuen Wong (Fitzwilliam 2002) and David Peace (St Catharine's 1966) to find out more about their lifelong passion for volunteering.

You can’t forcibly change the world, or force people to change: all you can do with whatever wisdom, knowledge, skills and talent you have, is ‘pass it on’.

Can you share what your first experience of volunteering was like?

David: "In fact it was immediately after graduation. With a degree in Classics, not knowing what to do next, with no money, and no knowledge of any occupation except seeing teachers at school, I volunteered to give some years to Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO). I was sent to the Sudan, the toughest assignment VSO had worldwide; and I lived alone for two years in a township on the Blue Nile, 250 miles south of Khartoum teaching English language and literature to young men almost my own age, who were desperate to get to Khartoum University, which was virtually their only hope for a better life. Ultimately our results were good – top marks in the country. These experiences made volunteering a totally worthwhile pursuit, lifelong. You can’t forcibly change the world, or force people to change: all you can do with whatever wisdom, knowledge, skills and talent you have, is ‘pass it on’."

Kai: "For me I think it really kick started a year before University whilst in Hong Kong when I was selected to be a Young Envoy for the United Nations Childrens' Fund. Part of the role included representing UNICEF during one-week field visits to Linnan and Sichuan, China where I had the opportunity to better understand some of the medical, health and educational challenges faced by children. At 16 years old, this was a life changing experience and I felt extremely humbled. It made me reflect on the basic needs of life and the importance of education, things that I had not realised I took for granted. It also strengthened my desire to study medicine."

Following on from this experience, what made you choose to volunteer for Cambridge University?

Kai: "I have benefited immensely from Cambridge, from the people I have met to the opportunities I have had to pursue my interests both within and outside my subject field. Cambridge offers such a unique experience that it felt only natural to volunteer for the University and share the privilege."   

David: "It wasn’t intended! After almost 20 years of globetrotting I returned to the UK and some years later, when I was living in London, a rather sad letter arrived asking local Cantabs to come to the annual general meeting of an alumni society of which I’d never heard, because the Committee had run out of ideas and needed help. I decided to go. Seven people turned up. I saw a need and so, for better or for worse, I made some suggestions and they invited me to join the committee. Nine years ago I was asked to be Chair of the Cambridge Society of London and I continue to run it."

In what capacities have you volunteered for Cambridge University?

David: "As a member, then Chair of the Cambridge Society of London, as a member, then President and now Secretary of the St Catharine’s College Alumni Society and as a member of the University’s Alumni Advisory Board (2012-2017)."

Kai: "As a member of the Alumni Advisory Board (2012-2017). I have also chaired the Networks and Volunteers Working Group (2013-2017), International Working Group (2013) and the Review Working Group (2013-2014). More informally, I have also volunteered to help at graduation ceremonies, speak at Alumni Group events, offer careers advice, and provide tours of Cambridge for prospective students."

Alumni Groups are a great way to stay connected with the University, keep in touch with fellow graduates and support potential new students. David, as Chair of the Cambridge Society of London, can you share your highlights in your involvement in the group? 

David: "This year the Cambridge Society of London will organise 26 events for those who live, work or socialise in the capital. The highlight for me is the major expansion of our activities in the last few years, and the amazingly positive feedback and appreciation from our members – even though they each have to cough up £12 per year in subscriptions!"

"With the University’s help we also do a Freshers Party each September, for those from London schools about to go up for the first time. Some 200+ teenagers come along. It’s hugely stimulating and rewarding for me, seeing and meeting such nervous, eager, high-potential youngsters and watching how they interact, help and support each other, especially the shy ones. Most impressive, and encouraging for the future!"

Amongst other voluntary roles you were both members of the Alumni Advisory Board (AAB), finishing your term at the close of 2017. Kai, can you tell us a little bit more about the AAB and what it has achieved for alumni so far?

Kai: "The simple answer is that the AAB aims to represent the views of alumni to further the goals of the University and better support the global Cambridge alumni network. We work closely with alumni, the Vice-Chancellor, University, Alumni Office, Heads of Houses and College Officers."

"We are often a sounding board for ideas and to test concepts for the Alumni Office. Most of our achievements are done behind the scenes. For example, agreeing strategic goals for the Alumni Office, assisting the development of the University trade mark and branding policy, proposing and playing key roles in events, and actively visiting and speaking to alumni at Global Cambridge or Alumni Group events worldwide."

"The AAB also has two working groups, the Communications Working Group (CWG) and the Networks and Volunteers Working Group (NVWG)."

Kai, as Chair of the NVWG, can you share more about how the working group has helped to raise awareness of the global alumni network amongst students and more recent graduates?

Kai: "Our particular achievements on this front include initiating the successful presence of the Alumni Office at the Freshers' Fair since 2013, involving Cambridge University Students' Union in our meetings to strengthen collaboration, and supporting a number of successful initiatives led by the Alumni Office such as the Student Travel Award."

"We also helped promote and further develop the alumni led Freshers' Events including a number of workshops for Alumni Groups to share best practice. Alongside this we helped formalise the concept of international hospitality with Alumni Groups providing assistance to travelling alumni, students and academics where possible."

“More recently we launched the Alumni Group Award Scheme, which offers Alumni Groups the opportunity to apply for awards of up to £1000 to support specific activities.”

Finally, can you tell us how you have personally benefited from volunteering for the University?

David: "I’m now 70, and my perspective probably reflects that. It’s simply the hope – and frankly occasional indications through feedback and thanks - that I’m contributing to a better future for individuals, the University, and the world in general. It’s small-time stuff but the more of us who can do it the better the future will be."

Kai: "I have learnt so much more about the University, the local community and met many inspirational people along the way. The constant new exciting developments in Cambridge with their potential groundbreaking implications for the future never cease to amaze me. To think that I may be able to contribute to that, however small or indirectly through volunteering, fills me with great satisfaction."

Learn more about the Alumni Advisory Board and find out about volunteering and getting involved in your local Alumni Group