From private eye and US Marine to CAB volunteer
Adnan Ahmed is many things already – a law student, a private investigator, a former US Marine and proud Chicagoan. But for one day a week, he and the other 2000 volunteers at the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) nationwide are simply advocates for any member of their community in need. He’s based at CAB Waitākere and shares more about the work they do.
When you’re stuck and don’t know where to go
A core aspect of CAB’s success is their drop-in model, paired with a phone service. Adnan shares that a common greeting at the CAB doors from newcomers is: ‘Hi, I don’t know if I’m in the right place.’
But he has full confidence that there’s almost nothing the CAB cannot help with, or know the right place to refer their clients to. The CAB offers a broad range of services and have a library of online guides. For Adnan, it’s often helping people with the seemingly more basic aspects that can really add value. He says that helping people fill out forms, ‘while unsexy’, can stop them losing time and opportunities, and heavily reduce frustration.
Adnan colloquially shares his view of the CAB goal as ‘to keep everyone’s heads above water’. Many people who reach out are in stressful situations – criminal charges laid, domestic violence present, child/relationship issues and employment challenges. A large factor can be people’s experiences engaging with government departments where they fall through the cracks.
The CAB will be there at any stage, but Adnan does recommend reaching out as early is possible – for example, when you receive your first warning at work rather than when you are terminated. The CAB volunteers will help translate information between organisations and the individual and ultimately provide as much information to help people make informed decisions as they can. Empowering people is crucial. ‘We are not solving their problem, they are solving their problem.’
CAB enquiry volumes and types can reflect the gaps in current public policy and services. A well-publicised piece of work was their Digital Exclusion Petition to Parliament, which sought to recognise that a ‘digital first’ approach does not work for everyone, and highlighted that vulnerable people in society are not left behind in the rush to digitally transform public services.
Adnan’s volunteering experience
For Adnan, connecting with his new neighbourhood was important and he felt volunteering at the CAB was an effective use of existing skills (PIs are research experts!). He admits that sometimes the gravity of the volunteering he does hits him – feeling the pressure to help people who may have felt they have run out of options or have nowhere else to go.
The corresponding reward, of course, is the ability to genuinely connect and help people. He recalls an unusual case where a client came in looking extremely upset and distressed. She had spent weeks setting up a garden for her new home but then found it damaged from when the neighbour was parking. The neighbour claimed the garden was his property and she would have to remove the rest of the garden as he was having difficulty avoiding the flowers when parking. The first thing Adnan did was search her property on New Zealand’s electronic register (LINZ). They discovered that not only was the garden her property, but also the area where her neighbour had been parking. Although she had come in feeling distressed, she left excited at the idea of telling him not to park on her property after presenting him her newfound information.
In terms of good attributes for future volunteers, he had a few suggestions:
• a willingness to help people is the key;
• people that like to talk to other people;
• creativity as you need to dig deeper for solutions sometimes when clients have explored other avenues.
BY CAITLIN CRAIGIE
Volunteering Auckland volunteer storywriter