Today, 5th December, marks International Volunteer Day 2020, as observed by the United Nations Volunteer Organisation. According to the UN Volunteers, International Volunteers Day (IVD), is an international observance that was decreed by the UN General Assembly way back in 1985, and it marks an opportunity for everyone to promote volunteerism globally. It was also formed encourage governments to support volunteer efforts and recognise volunteer contributions to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at local, national and international levels.
Volunteering in 2020
There has been a real flavour for volunteer work in 2020, with a terrible situation seeming to have brought out the very best in some people. This sudden spike in people putting themselves up as volunteers has been spurred on by the whole world taking a deep dive into a cavernous lava pot of Covid, compounded by having to cope with a variety of sub-challenges brought about as a result of this horrific pandemic - if you're wondering what exactly, we could always talk about job losses, high street closures and additional deaths from other untreated disease to name a few... but I don't want to.
Some people took to volunteering out of a desire to help others because they themselves were feeling hopeless and wanted to do something to try to change that. Others (myself included), found themselves suddenly out of work and had a bit of time on their hands. I genuinely couldn't think of anything else I wanted to do - I've always enjoyed voluntary work whenever I've put myself forward for it and have always derived such pleasure from doing something for others. Searching for new work seemed futile at the time, and when your only purpose is to look for work and nothing comes of it, it can really take a toll on your mental health. Some people literally put their bodies on the line to volunteer as Covid guinea pigs to try out the vaccine, which is an incredibly brave thing to to when so little is known about this disease, and no one knows what the long-term effects are.
The fact is, we need people who are willing to do things to help people for free. Kindness breeds kindness and you should never underestimate how being kind to someone who needs you can make you feel. I don't really believe in random acts of kindness because kindness should be continuous and consistent, not arbitrary or frivolous - otherwise it people won't trust your motives.
Anyone can volunteer, whether you are rich or poor - I'd absolutely love to be a philanthropist, but I simply don't have the wealth. I can guarantee that by giving your time to a cause you believe in with no expectation of remuneration, you will feel the richer for it - volunteering is philanthropy on a budget.
Why I Love to Volunteer
It's cheap. It's philanthropy without needing cash. It certainly takes an investment of time, although, to be fair, this can be a commitment which might impact your ability to earn - but you don't have to have loads of money to give your time to a special project. I wouldn't commit to something that I haven't got the time for, and this is a really important boundary to set. My point here though, is that you can be money poor, but still have something valuable to give to people who need you.
I don't feel any pressure when volunteering, as I'm doing something because I want to and not because I have to. The best way to describe my volunteering work is that it's like a job but I don't find it stressful - when you work, you HAVE to work and when you volunteer, you're there because you want to be there. I take each role extremely seriously, but because you're not being paid for it, you weirdly don't have the pressure that an every day job gives you. As you're helping people who truly need it though, and any help is gratefully received, you do feel appreciated which is payment in itself.
I'm always learning. I've learned an awful lot this year. I've invested my own time in courses, such as the Google Ad Grants course for charities, and there has also been amazing training from SHOUT 85258 (with additional training on Adult and Child Safeguarding). This is training that I've been able to take into my every day life and into a variety of charities, especially the SHOUT training. I feel like although empathy comes more naturally to some people than others, it is still something that needs to be learned and continually practised on a regular basis.
There are sooo many mental health benefits to be had. From finding like-minded people and making new friends to the simple joy of knowing that you're doing something (no matter how small) for someone who needs your help. It's difficult not to feel indulgent (or even a bit worthy) when talking about the mental health benefits of volunteering, but it's hard not to feel good about yourself when you know that you're adding value somewhere.
I can run on my own timetable. Your free time is precious, so it needs to be well-utilised. It might be that you can only spare an hour a week, but you can still have an impact for that one hour by doing some web development to make a charity website better, or by shopping for an elderly neighbour. It's important to only commit to causes that you have time for, and give them the time that they deserve. Instead of scrolling through Instagram or playing Candy Crush, what could you be doing that might utilise your skills to help someone else?
So, a big Happy International Volunteer Day to You!
I'd like to end this post on this special day to shout out to all of the organisations I've volunteered with this year, and those I am still active with...
Be a part of something special, and get involved with volunteering today.