In my personal opinion volunteering is something that everyone should do at least once in their lives. It’s not just about having to sacrifice everything just so you can try and help people. You can actually have some fun while you are doing it. At the same time it does not have to be something that costs you a lot of money or a lot of travel to do either. If you look properly around your local area or city you will find dozens of charities that are looking for people to help out.
My first experience with volunteering was with a local organisation called S.H.A.R.E. during secondary school. S.H.A.R.E. is an organisation from Cork City that cares for elderly people. They have a building that these elderly people can come to during the day to basically just hangout, chat, watch TV, and other various activities. Myself and my friend, Tomas, spent a week visiting this centre during the day. At the start of the first day I was nervous and apprehensive but by the end of the day I was leaving looking forward to coming back the next day.
So my one piece of advice for people is to try it at least once, you never know, you may enjoy it!!
In my time I have come across and I am friends with a lot of people who have volunteered. Some of them have been the most inspirational people I have met. The age that you volunteer at has very little to do with the amount you can achieve, but more the ambition that you come with. I have met volunteers ranging from 14 to 72 years old and there is not much of a difference in their own personal abilities.
I have on the other hand met some volunteers that have come for their own personal gain. These are the people that come with their $500 SRL camera around their neck who take countless pictures of the children. They then return home showing all their family and friends these ‘sad’ black and white pictures of poor naked children in the street. These ‘volunteers’ stay in a project for a week and then move on, while doing this they think that they have achieved so much and that their time spent there made such a huge difference to the people involved. In reality, these ‘week long volunteers’ cannot achieve something in such a short space of time.
In order to really get involved in a project/community/NGO you need to be there for at least 4-6 months. This gives you enough time to integrate into the project and really get a firm grasp on what is happening in the community. Once you have achieved this you can then start to see what is really needed in the area, and what skills you possess that can be of benefit.
One piece of advice that I give to everyone who asks me about volunteering is don’t volunteer for a few weeks or a month. IF YOU ARE GOING TO DO IT, DO IT PROPERLY. 4 months to 2 years may seem like a long time but when you are doing the work it flies by. You get to know the people you are helping better too, people appreciate the work you are doing, you become part of a community, and the best thing is the children know your name.
I encourage everyone to volunteer, but before you do, you have to ask yourself ‘Why am I going to volunteer?’ Unfortunately some people get this answer wrong, but the ones that get it right are the people who really make a difference in the world.