I have been doing voluntary work for a few years now and was recently asked “why do you bother?’’
I first volunteered whilst travelling around India on my own, having taken a sabbatical from my corporate job. Directionless and unsure where to go next I found myself at a loose end in Dharamsala, a hilltop town in the Himalayas. Home to an eclectic mix of Buddhist monks, the Dalai Lama, Hindis, Christians, hikers and many passing through, I volunteered to help out at a local school. Each morning I would ride in a tuk tuk to a remote village, scramble down the side of a Himalayan mountain and attempt to teach a group of five year olds how to read and write. Having only worked in an office with adults, I was comically out of my comfort zone. I felt incredibly awkward at first, but over time I got to know the kids and them, me. Their smiles were so big and eyes so wide when I taught them a new song or brought them a packet of stickers. It was a very humbling experience and one which had a profound impact on me. Here I was, giving my time and energy, not for money, but for satisfaction and the joy of having a positive impact on others.
Back in the UK I vowed to continue voluntary work. Seeking out charities that worked with young people and coaching, two of my passions, I have now been fortunate to work with a few organisations as a volunteer. So why do I bother? On one level I have found it a great way to meet new people, it might improve my CV and I have been lucky to receive some fantastic training.
I also hope that I am contributing to society - I know many of us feel disengaged with government and frustrated by the lack of help for those most vulnerable in the UK. Rather than complaining about this I try to make a difference by volunteering my time and effort to helping within our communities. You might surprise yourself in what you can give to others and what you receive in return. Volunteering with people in less fortunate situations has also made me feel very grateful for the opportunities I have been given.
All the above reasons to help out are great, but the biggest benefit I have found by volunteering and what makes me so passionate about doing it has been the impact on my self esteem. It may sound selfish but I think the primary beneficiary of my voluntary work has been...me. Volunteering has made me feel kinder and more compassionate towards myself. Giving something and not receiving payment in a traditional sense has been so rewarding. At times I have found it frustrating and it has required commitment but I have stuck with it. Not to feel smug about ‘helping others’ but because at the heart of self worth is feeling good about ourselves, having a sense of purpose and having a positive influence on others.
So as another school year ends and I bid farewell to my latest young coachee, I’m not sure how much of an impact my volunteering has had on others, but I pause to recognise the huge impact it has had on me.