Why Volunteer?


woman and boyEveryone is different, so there are many different reasons why people develop an interest in volunteering.

Here are just a few, I’m sure you can think of more of your own.

  • You have skills you want to share
  • You want to feel needed
  • You want to get to know a community different to your own
  • You want to show commitment to a cause/belief
  • You want to learn how to lead
  • You want to act out a fantasy of your own making
  • You feel like you have to do your civic duty
  • You are pressured by friends or relatives who have volunteered
  • You want to feel satisfied with yourself
  • You are bored and want to be busy
  • You want recognition
  • You want to feel proud of yourself
  • You feel you have a debt to society
  • You love all people and think they need you
  • You want to have an impact
  • You want to see new things
  • You want to learn new things
  • You want to get away from your daily schedule
  • You want to escape from your life
  • You feel guilty
  • You crave a challenge
  • You want to make new friends
  • You want to explore study or career options
  • You want to do it for fun!
  • You have religious reasons
  • You want to earn academic credit
  • You want to keep your skillset sharp
  • You need reassurance that your life is better than others’ lives
  • You want to make progress in your own life
  • You want to feel like you are a good person
  • You want to put volunteering on your CV
  • You feel like you are an agent of change
  • You have personal experience with the cause

children1None of these reasons are right or wrong per se. Rather, whatever reason motivates you to volunteer might not be the exact reason you stay with the project, or why you volunteer again and again.  You may well find that you go for the self-esteem, but stay or go back for the people, or the country, or the specific project you volunteer at. The important thing is that you as a volunteer feel like you are accomplishing something in YOUR life as well as making a difference in the lives of other people, or nature conservation, or whatever field your chosen project is in. And if you also like the people with whom you work, so much the better!

Think of this as an exchange of energy that will help to strengthen your commitment to volunteering – seeing the benefits to the people who gain from your efforts, AND the benefits to yourself; whether in your career, or personal life, or what skills you gain that can be used in your own country. And while donations to charity might make a small difference to those in need or to the environment, your personal time spent with people will be worth much more to them because it gives them more of a sense of self-esteem – after all, we ALL want people to care about us and enjoy our company.

Some people thinking about volunteering can feel uncomfortable with the idea that a volunteer also benefits from doing volunteer work. The old-fashioned tradition of volunteering purely as a form of charity, based on often religiously-based altruism and selflessness, has now been replaced with an attitude that is in a sense, one of ‘global unity’. After all, you may have needed some form of assistance at some point in your life. This time around, YOU may be the person with the ability to help, but tomorrow you may be the recipient of someone else's volunteer effort. Even right now you could exist right in the middle of the ‘volunteer circle’: maybe you are helping to teach people to read, while last month a volunteer might have helped you or a loved one with a trip to the doctor or hospital. Adding your effort to the work of others makes EVERYONE’S lives better. That’s what the modern world needs, and that is exactly what you are doing!

Some people have a notion that by volunteering, they are helping to ‘save the world’. While this is certainly a commendable attitude to have, it’s also misleading and can make volunteers depressed, especially if they are initially shocked by the level of deprivation they witness in a developing country. So you haven’t ended poverty and ignorance with your three weeks at an educational project? Well, no, but your small contribution has definitely been felt. Big changes and long journeys start with tiny steps.

Besides various altruistic or self-improvement reasons for volunteering, it’s a fantastic way for people on a budget to see exotic countries and truly become immersed in the culture and environment. Instead of staying in overpriced hotels and spending your hard-earned money visiting all the bright-and-shiny tourist traps, volunteers get to know the real people of the country and their real lives, and channel money and other resources to the people who need them most. Hotel owners and high-end tourist shops don’t need your cash or your attention; but a 10-year-old underprivileged boy in a township who might be lacking even the most basic of necessities, or an endangered species of wild animal in a rapidly dwindling ecosystem, most certainly do.

You also get to stay with like-minded people from all over the world who share your views on life, not to mention local people and experienced volunteers who really know the city or town you are in. You won’t lack for advice or tips - whether it’s how to deal with some of the more pressing challenges at your volunteer project, or simply where to get a cheap tasty meal and a good ale or three.

So whatever your reasons, rest assured that by committing yourself to volunteering, you have made a brave and wise decision that will have a positive impact on yourself and others. You’ll be astounded at the spirit and resilience of people in even the most challenging of situations, and this will help you face challenges in your own life. And by the way – don’t forget to have a whole lot of fun!

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