Volunteering may be an activity bundled neatly with kindness and generosity with the same lessons to impart. However, it unwraps itself into a variety of different experiences and insights for different people.
I asked four lovely and intelligent people what they thought of volunteer work and their experiences. The responses I received ranged from personal experiences and views to the culture of voluntourism (a form of tourism wherein travellers participate in volunteer work).
A very dear friend and peer told me how vital she feels volunteering is and how deeply doing an act of kindness alongside her mum touched her.
“The world needs volunteering and community service more than it needs billionaires. There are hundreds of thousands of people who sleep every day without food and do not have a permanent place to stay or sleep. When I think of these people, something about humanity pains me and I ask myself why I cannot help them. I would definitely engage in volunteer work. There’s absolutely no question there.
There was this one time when Ma had stitched a bunch of garments for girls my age and younger. The next week, we went to a girls’ orphanage with those clothes and some sweets. The amount of happiness and the level of satisfaction I achieved that day just by looking at them so happy about their new clothes cannot be replaced by anything else. I went home and cried that day.”
Another friend, who, while they understand the significance of volunteering, laid down their analysis and talked about their experience and understanding of the culture around it.
Of course we hear about the nobility associated with it. That is common. But motives aren’t always just goodwill. There’s the CV-building aspect. Also, markets for voluntourism have sprung up in “Third World” areas. Not just because they’re in genuine need of extra efforts towards the betterment of the society, but because there is globally an exoticism associated with poverty. Also, there’s the crucial question of accountability for NGOs. Pitches are made, funds are raised, objectives are laid down, and actions performed. But how much of it is effective? What kind of social models are we developing, if a local model works successfully? My point is, right now a major concern seems to be action, instead of impact assessment of the action.
Additionally, from a cultural relativism perspective, how ethical is it to impose the western idea of aid on communities in, say, Africa? Community service shouldn’t come at the cost of a disregard of a community’s indigenous idea of its development. It’s best if volunteers from the geopolitical settings are recruited, or urged to participate in tandem with NGOs and other governmental institutions.
Speaking from personal experience, I went on to do volunteering in Himachal Pradesh for a month with mixed motivations from goodwill and CV-building. But a lot of my friends who accompanied me decided that the work wasn’t what they were looking for and stopped taking sessions after a week. Regardless of this, however, in the end they received certificates because the management wanted to show volunteers to enable sponsorships. Problem was, we exoticized this voluntourism, and did not bother picking a job profile that we’d have actually loved contributing to. Because in the end we wanted these on our CVs, no? Which I think wouldn’t have been the case if goodwill was the sole motivation.
Having said all that, I believe the best aspect of volunteering is a participation in the community, which teaches us about the big picture. It tells us what we otherwise ignore to continue living in our privilege.”
Here is what a wonderful team member at ConnectFor had to say on the subject:
“I think that people are constantly looking to add value to things, and I think that that’s the underlying reason why we do things in life. When we volunteer, whether it’s by writing a blog for an NGO, or by hosting a dance workshop for underprivileged children, we are adding value. The best thing about volunteering, for me, is that I am helping an NGO do something that they don’t necessarily have the resources to do.
Also, I think I’m selfish because I love that feeling of satisfaction. It feels like I did something important and it helps build my self-confidence. That’s what volunteering means to me.”
My mother (who has helped out more people than she ever mentions, and has shown me everything I know about being compassionate) has a very clear notion of what she thinks volunteering is.
“It is a redistribution of resources. What you have, you give. It is that simple. Volunteering maintains its position as something that attempts to reach out, lift up those that could use a hand, and keep doing it over and over. You ought to be compassionate and consistent. Being a volunteer lets you do just that. And more. What you get out of it is not measurable except in smiles and little/big transformations.”
What I gather from everyone’s view is the consensus that volunteering is good work, and that it is very, very important. I would even go so far as to say that we are almost obliged to support those that could use our shoulder. Our attempts needn’t be grand to make an impact, but just present. But beware, it is not difficult work to find opportunities to be an awesome, helpful human being. You can find NGOs requiring exactly what you have to give through ConnectFor — all of it in just a couple of clicks. What you get out of it is a diverse set of experiences, a glimpse of different lives, and a new meaning to what volunteering means to you.
This post was researched and articulately put together by one of our content writers — Haalah Shaikh. Haalah is young, talented and wise beyond her years. The entire ConnectFor team is beyond excited to have her working with us!