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.


Help me Feed my Giraffe… that is, My Journey to Brazil

I was in my early years in elementary school when a new teaching assistant arrived to our class. Her job was to interview us. Not in the school but later in the afternoon at home, when our parents could be present too. To put it mildly, in my case her attempts failed. I am still not the one who is ready to share thoughts, ideas and privacy with complete strangers, but nowadays I am trying to adapt to certain social norms as much as my resources allow it. I remember only one of her questions. But maybe it is because she had no chance to ask anything else or anything more. The question was: ‘What would you most like to receive as a present?’ My answer came: ‘A giraffe.’ The adults started giggling then told me silly things like ‘that is impossible, how would a giraffe fit into this house? Too big, too whatever… why don’t you say something that you really want’ they asked. I gave in and told them: ‘I want a TV (or a tape recorder, I cannot recall that already).’ And I clearly remember how bad I felt from this answer. What a nonsense it is to want a TV, an object. Isn’t it as if I was only after material things? And what’s wrong with a giraffe? They are one of the most wonderful creatures on Earth. However, I also remember that even I was surprised of my first choice of a possible present. How could this pop into my mind I don’t know, but it was clearly a sign of what would follow.

I have been accused several times that I don’t know what I want out of my life. I do too many things, I cannot focus, I should stick to one subject and so on and so forth. I never listened to this flammery but it still caused considerable amount of stress within, making the journey quite rocky many times. Only recently I started to feel liberated from others’ opinion and ways of thinking. Why couldn’t I do what I want, even if it’s one day walking with a giraffe on the savannah, the other day visiting sacred places in the Gobi desert, or this summer attending the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil. And with this, finally, we have arrived to the main point of my current writing.

Last year I saw an opportunity to apply for volunteering at the 2016 – Olympic Games in Brazil. I didn’t think much, I applied, of course. I was curious if they would accept my application. Some time later an invitation to attend an online group interview arrived. It was my very first interview in my entire life that I was not scared of. Surprisingly, I was the only one in the group who asked questions and who was the first to answer the interviewee. What is more, it was pretty annoying to see how nervous everyone was during the meeting. It was fun, really, exactly what I expected from Brazil. Then a few months have gone without news from the organizers, I nearly forgot about the whole event. Finally came the e-mail: WELCOME TO THE TEAM!  I still had to wait 3 more months to receive the official offer letter that would tell me where I would be assigned and what my role would be during the Games. I had 6 days to accept the offer or it would be withdrawn. I had a thought, maybe an afternoon what I needed to decide then I said YES!, of course. When it comes to travelling, my backside starts itching and it does not stop until I board my flight. This can be a trip to the nearby Vienna, or London that I think of as my second hometown, Mongolia, the most magical place I have ever seen, or the Moon, doesn’t really matter. What hasn’t changed since I wanted a giraffe for Christmas is my crave for discoveries, experiences, the unknown, and this is what that distant animal represented already in my early years. No wonder I became a researcher. At least that is one of the things I have been doing for a while.

Back to Brazil now… I had a chat with a friend a few months ago about the difficulties of boarding that flight to Rio. These difficulties focused mostly on the lack of funds to cover flights, accomodation, etc. My friend, a very wise one, told me something like ‘why don’t you just release your dream to the universe and let it answer you?’ So I am doing now.

This blog post is the start of my volunteer journey to Brasília, the capital of Brazil, where I will be part of the event services team in the Mané Garrincha Stadium. I will report on the progress of my journey from time to time, and show you what is possible.

Next time I will write a little more about the importance of volunteering in general, and why I think it should be part of everyone’s life.

In the meantime, feel free to share your fundraising ideas with me. Help me feed my giraffe in the coming months too…