Volunteering

A friend told me recently that his problem with volunteering is that it is volunteering. By this he meant that it is unpaid. One other friend looked at me wide eyed when I told her about my plans to volunteer at the Olympics this summer. She wondered why I don’t just book my flights and go for a holiday if I want to travel. I need to pay for my tickets anyway why work then? Many years ago someone excitedly told me how good it will be upon graduation – I can start working for one of the FTSE 100 companies (‘companies listed on the London Stock Exchange with the highest market capitalization’). My answer was NEVER EVER I would do that even if I was suitable for such work. To further worsen my status I even told him what I wanted to do instead. We did not became life long friends or anything else he aimed for.

The thing is that volunteering has been around since time immemorial. Well before a whole industry built around the movement. It’s been there in families and institutions alike. We might have not called it volunteering, or work the least, but the purpose was the same. That is, to contribute to the development and wellbeing of individuals and the society as a whole, whatever way we can, building upon previously acquired knowledge and experiences. Sadly, when something gets institutionalised then it tends to go bad. During my travellings I have met brilliant initiatives when the values and aims behind a volunteer organization could not be questioned. I have also seen projects that I would have shut down if I had the means. Those who are involved in the volunteer sector know how competitive it is. A few months volunteering for a well known organization in your home country or in the so called developing world can significantly contribute to your career. There can be huge competitions for a unpaid position, expectations from the side of the employer are similar to a paid job. That is utterly understandable I must add, even if we tend to underestimate the importance of a volunteer job. Just think into what happens if someone without proper training, abilities and skills is sent into a humanitarian disaster zone. Its psychological effect on the individual is significant and potentially harmful, and it will set back those colleagues too whom otherwise are equipped to help.

It is not easy for the beginner and naive to decide if the work of the organization in question does contribute to the cause they are involved in or further increases the mess. It can take years to understand how the sector works and to understand how we as individuals can contribute to others’ wellbeing, what our strenghts and weaknesses are. My only rule in this regard that wherever I am I join only local initiatives. Big international organizations can be challenging to see through for the outsider and sometimes the original goal becomes overshadowed by constant political games and the fight for funds. Yes, I also had a period when I tried everything to get into such organizations but thankfully I was found too unexperienced and the least pushy for the job. Now, being more aware of my skills and shortcomings I consider a position, be it a one-time thing or a few-months commitment, only if  I am convinced I am suitable.

As most things, volunteering must start at home. Don’t think of huge, life saving things. Most of us start volunteering at very young age. When your Mum asks you to do the dishes or you help her bake a cake on a weekend, you start getting used to helping others. Volunteering is a call to a friend stuck at home sick and you offer bringing some food. Volunteering is to offer your otherwise paid life coaching skills to someone who needs it without expecting reward. Volunteering is re-writing someone’s cover letter to help her get her dream-job. These above all happened to me recently when I was the recipient so I know these small things mean a lot. I have received so much help in the last years, many times from total strangers, that I know to what extent we can influence each other’s lives.

This is the first time in my volunteering career that I aim to be part of a huge event like the Olympics but I needed many years to get to this point. What really attracted me to applying  was an other opportunity to widen my horizon. Being around successful people is life changing and where else can you meet more successful people than on the Olympic Games. I would be thrilled to further contribute to their success.

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