Volunteering is a great way to give service to your community. It is well known that helping others also helps yourself. Volunteering can give you great satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment by doing something meaningful and giving back. Learning about injustice, help us put life into perspective. Volunteering can also be pro-active, working towards social causes such as with advocacy or environmental groups.
We may shrug off the societal issues going on around us, because we feel powerless to change anything or we don’t really understand them. We tend to see as far as our family and friends and stop there, not putting care into the bigger macrocosms surrounding us like our communities. I don’t think this helps the world to be a better place – if everyone did it, we’d be in real trouble. Its easy and definitely more comfortable to put blinders on, not to care about the injustices around us. Though we temporarily hear about issues we need to know more about, we tend to give it a two-second thought and just scroll on – or worsely so, give it a ‘share’ as part of our duty to raise awareness and don’t even really fact-check or even read the whole article to inform ourselves properly.
This is where I see the value in our groups of volunteers. A group of young socially curious persons trust us to take them to our projects for 3 weeks. Yet, we explain from the get-go that this is a different type of volunteering. What comes to mind when we think of typical volunteering such as building schools, teaching in classrooms or painting does not happen on our programmes – unless you are skilled to do so, commit to a long term placement and there is a need for it. Our 3 week programmes are educational experiences for volunteers to learn more about the local culture, local community needs and social issues affecting locals, the project we fund and grow year round and volunteers fit into the bigger picture. During these 3 weeks, we aim to help them learn through challenging discussions, exposure to cultural activities, and hands-on experience of the work done on the projects. They also experience a different lifestyle, living as closely as possible to local life. Though all basic needs are met, the commodities are purposely simple.
We aim to utilise volunteers skills in the best way possible. Everyone has something they can offer. But a mixed skilled group of volunteers cannot be pigeon holed into a one-style of volunteering. On our projects, the core values are sustainability and empowerment. Our aim is to create long term project run by local communities or partners. How disempowering would it be to have volunteers come for 3 weeks month after month to take over a classroom from the local teacher who has been there year round with her class? A teacher who is a local person we have employed and trained to be there. Conversely, how empowering would it be to have volunteer teachers hold discussions and share practices with local teachers, as part of a training programme?
The biggest satisfaction I feel is when I hear of volunteers who have returned home and felt moved to action. You don’t need to travel to volunteer. We could also take an interest in our own local community by getting active in the local council or other groups in our area. People who care more about their communities are less likely to cause harm to them, to care for others living with them and feel a sense of belonging, ultimately leading to a better quality of life for all involved.
For whatever cause it may be, volunteers gain an awareness and a belief that empowers them to become active contributing and caring citizens.
Gillian Sushma Balani
Volunteer Development Manager