Volunteering – a necessary evil?
In today’s economic climate working for free or ‘volunteering’ is often seen as a necessary evil; something that gives us a foot up onto the career ladder. Indeed, its CV enhancing potential should not be dismissed. Volunteering not only offers us a platform on which to exhibit our knowledge, skills and interests to those we want to employ us, but helps us gain new skills and experience, to network with like-minded people and to engage with a community we are interested in. It is a means to an end – if we are lucky, a lucrative one.
But what if we decided to let go of our 10 year career plans for just a moment and consider volunteering differently? What if we conceive the voluntary giving of our time and expertise to each other as the end goal, and the way we make money as a means of getting there? Having volunteered in several different capacities over the last 8 years, I believe that the sharing of our skills with one another is a basic human need both for those who give and those who receive.
So what’s the big deal about volunteering? Rather than state the obvious benefits volunteering brings to organisations with minimal funds and to the vulnerable in society, or give you a list of the pros and cons which you can explore here in the Guardian’s volunteering website, I will share what volunteering means to me personally.
Firstly, yes, the experiences I have had as a volunteer boosted my career opportunities. In my late teens I developed leadership, organisation and management skills working in cross-community projects in Belfast. In my early twenties I practised patience, resilience and creativity when teaching 10 nine-year-old boys maths in Spanish in Peru. Now, as a communications volunteer for Misión Mexico I am able to do something I love – write.
However, the real benefit of my volunteering experiences is that they have challenged everything I know, everything I believe and everything I am. They shattered and continue to shape my ideologies, my belief systems and my political views. They underpin my career choices, my friendships and my identity and I feel immensely grateful to have been in a position to be able to volunteer. In fact, rather than being an inconvenient necessity, I believe it to be an immense privilege and I am yet to find someone who volunteers their time to a cause, organisation, or person they care about who would disagree.
So if you haven’t had the opportunity to volunteer already, my advice is to do it. The free sharing of knowledge, time and resources to support and provide for each other is the cornerstone of humanity. You will not regret it!