Volunteering can be a stepping stone to restart a career

Volunteering can be a stepping stone to restart a career

In 2006, I first came to England to visit my then husband. I was a successful career woman who had no plans of quitting my job or leave my country, India. I returned after a lovely vacation and he followed. A few months later, seven months pregnant, I was on the plane to England. This was the first time since my first job at the age of 18, I had quit my career, to be with my husband and raise a family.

A first-time mum, in a foreign country with no support system can be hard, physically and emotionally. A new-born baby demands full-time attention and life in the UK as a homemaker demands an equally complete attention, especially as the husband is mostly away working. One gets used to it and a system develops, over time.

Rusty CV

In a couple of years, it is time you feel ready to want to get back to working again. The usual process begins update your rusty CV, look for jobs, make applications. Initially, a few regret letters don t deter you but over time, month after month, your self-confidence is battered. Your partner tries to keep you motivated but inside, you break, bit by bit.

From applying for profiles that match your own expertise, background and profile, you slowly start lowering the bar.

You start telling yourself: Well, of course I haven t worked in nearly three plus years, how will I get a job?

My qualifications aren t recognised here. May be I am not good enough?

I obviously won t be able to commit to work, may be I should think of taking a complete break and enjoy my motherhood Childcare is so expensive anyways.

New approach

In 2010, I tore up my actual CV and created one that simply gave out my most basic qualifications yes, I removed the higher qualifications, and removed all my technical work experience. Instead, I kept a basic admin profile appropriate CV.

For an immigrant, dependent woman, the stamp on the passport, No recourse to pubic funds, starts to stare at you harder. You are not eligible to receive any support or help from the government-run Job Centres.

No employer would consider you owing to your lack of local experience. You find yourself in an odd spot you do need to work somewhere to gain some local experience! Time is running out, every day.

First steps

While on a parenting break, I would often go over to the local library to pick up books to read and one day, I saw a notice with a volunteering opportunity to help with a homework club. A commitment of a couple of hours one afternoon didn t seem a lot. So I decided to try it. This was my first real exposure to working in the UK, though it didn t last long as the ordeal of managing a fully breast fed baby and an assignment is more harassing than fulfilling. So I quit.

Once my daughter was two, I took her to a toddler group where I met this fine lady who ran a playgroup. I offered to volunteer and they allowed my daughter to be a part of the playgroup too. Over the next few months, the playgroup manager, Louise, arranged a small weekly stipend and an offer to pursue a course. This was the first time I earned something in nearly two plus years of being without work!

Thanks to this local work experience and a reference from my husband at his office, I got my first temp job a data entry operator. My next temp job mail sorter. This carried on for nearly two years and it was almost 2012 now.

Super Power

The ability to earn again, is like a super power, especially for a woman returning to work after a gap of a parenting break. From being a young achiever to someone who was just glad she had some odd job, a reason to get ready and go to work? was enough. In just five years life had changed, dramatically!

I was lucky, I volunteered and did odd jobs. This gave me a good reason to step out of the house and build a sort of daily routine. The interactions helped me gain an exposure to local culture, etiquette and opportunities.

There were other wives of IT consultants, just like me, whom I met occasionally at house parties. Most did nothing; not even volunteer. They stayed at home, alone, waiting for their husbands all day, cooking, washing, cleaning and waiting. Most of them were highly qualified mid-career women like myself, who moved countries, putting their careers on hold to be with their husbands, to look after them, in a foreign country. Loneliness often led to depression but it went unnoticed. Most carried on but didn t feel right to go out and volunteer.

Looking back, I am glad I had the courage to step out, volunteer. It helped me gain the valuable work experience I so needed to return to a career.

When I lived and worked in India, I never imagined that these odd jobs would actually be a life saviour for me one day. That a career disruption lasting nearly six years would happen in my lifetime this was something that my mum did, not me!

Sound familiar?

Lakshmi Kaul is the London-based UK Head & Representative at the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and an active Indian diaspora campaigner. In this regular Talking Point column for iGlobal, she will focus on issues that deserve spotlighting within the Global Indian community, referencing her personal experiences.

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