Monday, 3 March 2014

Joining The Team

As Missing People’s new Social Media Volunteer, it seems only fitting that I begin my volunteering journey with a blog post. Having just reached the end of Student Volunteering Week 2014, it seems the perfect time for me to explain why I, as a student myself, have chosen to volunteer at the charity.

Walking through the corridors at the Missing People Central Office, striking posters showcase the driving force behind the charity. Images of missing people are accompanied by photographs of their friends and family with text that harrowingly outlines the feelings of loss and confusion experienced in these unimaginable situations. When discussing the problems surrounding runaways, it can be easy to jump to a simplistic solution; to find and reunite the estranged parties. I know this is how I viewed the issue until I had a personal experience with a missing person.

When a close friend of mine took me to one side at the beginning of a day at college to tell me that she had run away from home, I was at a loss. I did my best to help her, offering a place to stay for as long as she needed and advising her to inform the college’s Student Support Office to see whether financial support could be made available to her. Like many runaways, she was unwilling to inform any official services of her situation, and felt embarrassed to ask for help, even from her closest friend.

I was not able to speak confidently to her about the monumental problems she was facing, nor was I in a position to do much more than offer her somewhere to stay and a shoulder to cry on. We spent a difficult evening talking about what had happened, and the likelihood of her returning home seemed very small. This was the first time that I had been made aware of the complexities of cases of runaways. After long and challenging soul-searching, my friend did eventually get in contact with her family. The process was far from easy and made me realise that the act of locating a missing person is only half the challenge, and that the repercussions when somebody goes missing are far wider than I could have imagined.

I wish that, at this time, I had known about Missing People. Had I known that a service was available to me, my friend and her family that was confidential and well-informed, with a helpline where we could talk through the issues the family was having, I would have undoubtedly used it myself, and would have tried to encourage the estranged family to do the same. The Missing People Charity has so much experience and knowledge of the issues surrounding runaways, and where I was completely out of my depth and unable to help with the situation, they would have been able to support us all.

The charity does a fantastic job of appealing to find missing people, increasingly through social media, but to me the incredible thing about Missing People is their understanding of the complex problems that are entwined with runaways. Family breakdowns and misunderstandings, people who chose not to be ‘found’ by their loved ones, the terrible distress caused when worst-case scenarios become a reality and other issues that I will probably never begin to understand are all carefully addressed within the organisation.

Although Home Office statistics estimate that around 250,000 people go missing every year, when you stop to consider how many friends and family are involved with each case, the number of people that are affected by this problem is huge.

So I am thrilled to dedicate some of my time between my A Levels and University at Missing People, helping to raise awareness of the charity itself and the service it provides through the ever-expanding resource of social media. It’s only my third day here, but I can already see what an amazing opportunity I have to make a real impact, develop skills, meet inspiring people and be involved in an incredibly important organisation.

In the spirit of 2014’s Student Volunteering Week that has just ended, I would like to encourage any students (or adults!) who have spare time to get involved in any way they can with this lifeline when someone disappears.

Imagine the difference you could make.

Penned by Alice Attlee,
Missing People Social Media Volunteer

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Around 250,000 people go missing in the UK each year. The Missing Blog aims to give a voice to all those affected by this issue.

Written by families and friends of missing people, supporters working to raise awareness of the cause, and volunteers and staff at the charity Missing People, we hope that this blog will offer a window into the issue of missing.

The charity Missing People is a lifeline when someone disappears. To find out more about Missing People and ways that you can support the charity visit www.missingpeople.org.uk.

Call or txt the charity Missing People for free on 116 000, 24/7 if you or anyone you know is affected by a disappearance.