Posted by Chiara 80 days ago in Fast Forward

Mhairi’s experience, from Fast Forward to Greece

Mhairi was one of our Fast Forward volunteers in 2013-2014 and then she joined our staff team as the Volunteers’ Coordinator in 2014-2015.

Now she shares her reflections on how her experience at Fast Forward has equipped her for what she did next. We’re very proud of all the amazing work she’s done in Greece:


I found myself as a volunteer on a Greek beach, playing catch with a balloon with a toddler as the sun rose. The child had just climbed from a rubber boat in which he had crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey, he had come from Syria. We found a balloon, we played catch. I was adapting to the situation in front of me, a skill I had learned some years before as a peer education volunteer with Fast Forward, I am sure though if you had asked me back then if I would ever use this skill in this situation, I could never have imagined it.

I found myself in a refugee camp with a group of unaccompanied minors in detention, around 50 boys between the ages of 14 and 17, and it was my job to create a catalogue of items within a certain budget that they could shop from depending on their needs. It was a challenging process that involved listening to the young people and hearing what they needed rather than assuming and creating options that were of no use to them in the situation they were in. The skill of communicating, even when you don’t speak the same language, and the skill of creating projects by listening to the voices of young people, were taught to me by Fast Forward.

I found myself in a training session in Athens for the international humanitarian organisation in which I was employed, I sat with my colleague in the corner as we cut out little colourful pieces of paper with body parts on. We had been given the challenge to deliver a section of the training and we had decided instead of doing a presentation, we would turn our section into an active game to engage the training group, another skill I learned in my Fast Forward experience.

I found myself promoted to a Senior Project Officer, responsible for a team and a project in the north of Greece. I was discussing with the team how to improve an aspect of the work to make it safer and more efficient when a colleague who had been working in the region longer than myself suggested a new system she would like to implement. As a team we discussed the pros and cons and decided to work together to give it a trial run and it turned out to be very successful, so we changed our approach to this system. The skill of working together as a team and of identifying people’s strengths and encouraging their creativity were all skills I learned as a volunteer during my time at Fast Forward.

I never imagined I’d find myself in any of these situations…

Back in 2013, I stumbled upon an advert looking for peer education volunteers at a Young People’s Health and Wellbeing charity and little did I know what an impact this little advert would have on the direction of my life.

To set the scene, I had just moved to Edinburgh to finish my studies after a few years out of education and although I had friends in the city, I was eager to get involved as a volunteer in a local project to feel more of a sense of community in my new home.

I was invited along to the Fast Forward office for an informal interview where I immediately felt welcome, and the more I found about the work and the volunteer roles and opportunities, the more excited I became about becoming part of the volunteer team.

The initial training I received equipt me with all the tools I needed to not only be a peer educator, but also how to design and deliver workshops in a range of health and wellbeing topics as well as the support to create new projects and explore new ideas. I began by assisting the Fast Forward staff team in delivering workshops in schools and community youth groups and as time went on I became more involved in the planning of workshops and then in passing on my experience in training new volunteers.

I found the variety of each volunteering experience always kept my interest peaked, and there was always something new to learn. Before volunteering I had been a drama facilitator and I was able to use this skill base but adapt it to the delivery of workshops and peer education sessions.

When I finished my studies, I was incredibly happy when I applied and was successful in being employed as Fast Forward’s Volunteers’ Coordinator, which I must say has got to be one of the best jobs in the world!

A highlight for me in this role, both professionally and personally, was being supported by the organisation to apply and successfully be granted funding to hold a national conference exploring the relationships between youth health and wellbeing education and the arts. Bringing young people, volunteers and practitioners from across the fields of arts, health and youth work and opening up a dialogue was a truly incredible experience.

Another thing I loved about the job was being the one welcoming new volunteers into the volunteer team!

Some years now have passed since my Fast Forward experience, and I always look back with smile and with great gratitude as I believe it offered me a direction in my life I couldn’t have imagined and opened doors for my future.

The joy of volunteering is that no matter what your expectations may be, you will always be surprised in the best ways!

Mhairi Smith