An aspiring doctor is on the path to realising his dream career in medicine after boosting his confidence by volunteering as part of a community project in Epping.
Raj Chatterjee, 20, has always dreamed of being a GP, but until recently he feared his social awkwardness and anxiety when meeting new people would stand in his way.
He said: “Sometimes I have trouble articulating myself. The shyness really showed when talking to strangers, and I thought this was always going to be the case for me.
“I couldn’t even speak, even if I wanted to, but it wasn’t only strangers where I struggled.
“I felt so shy, I couldn’t even talk to people like class mates that I would see every day.
“I felt lonely. I could count on one hand the people I did talk to, who I classed as very close friends.”
But after participating in a youth volunteering programme and being matched with the Epping Forest Time Bank – an initiative that encourages people to give up one of their time in exchange for an hour of someone else’s – Raj is full of confidence and has started a degree in Bio Medical Science at The University of Bradford.
The scheme comes as a result of collaboration between the Essex Partnership Board, including Essex County Council, and Voluntary Action Epping Forest.
As part of it, Raj has been volunteering at Loughton Library, helping teach the elderly how to use technology as part of a Coffee and iTea Club.
He said: “It played such an important role in securing my thoughts about what I wanted in terms of my career, as I was questioning everything about my future which was a scary and stressful time.
“I had that reassurance from the Time Bank experience that I was clearly more than capable.
“The Time Bank gave me the opportunity to get completely out of my comfort zone.
“Whether I felt comfortable or not, each time I walked into a session there would always be new people and I just had to do it.
“It forced me to put socialising into practice but in an organic way where I truly did want to be doing it.”
He added: “Every time I do the Time Banking I feel like bit by bit my shyness is reduced.
“I thoroughly enjoy it because people appreciate the time I am giving, my company, and I get a lot of positive feedback.
“It has certainly strengthened my decision to go into medicine.”
Cllr Anne Brown, Cabinet Member for Corporate and Communities, said:
“Empowering and strengthening Essex communities remains a key priority for us and our partners.
“People like Raj have a lot to offer and we are keen to ensure our residents benefit from schemes such as the Essex Timebanking Network, which have huge benefits for individuals and the wider community.
“Encouraging more people to play a greater role in the places they live is vital in creating strong and resilient communities.”
Marc Balkham, Time Banking co-ordinator for Voluntary Action Epping Forest, said: “Time Banking is a national initiative which allows members to make a difference in their local community.
“All sorts of like-minded people are giving their time up to help others and receiving help themselves, should they need it.
“It works on an ad-hoc basis with members doing what they want, when they are able to. There is no on-going commitment required.
“It strengthens community links, allows members to achieve and produce without financial costs, develops skills and builds confidence in individuals and can reduce isolation in rural areas.”
Raj’s story and the other films in the Strengthening Communities series can be watched by visiting Essex County Council’s YouTube channel.