HAPPY 4TH JULY!
Last week I received a parcel in the mail which included a certificate and this beautiful bronze medal. This is my reward for volunteering for X amount of hours in the US. If it included all the volunteering I have done in my life it should be platinum and diamond encrusted. Not that I am one to boast…
When I reflected on when and why I started volunteering, it was when I was offered the choice of community work or physical sports at school. I am, and always was, pretty fit and even athletic at times but hated team sports so this was an easy leap into volunteering. Our first job was to visit an older couple who lived in a senior citizen house close to our school. They had very few visitors and loved our nonsensical chat about school, boys and life. We were the grandchildren that they either never had or never visited.
The two friends that did this with me then decided to volunteer for the Scottish Youth Hosteling Association and went straight onto the publicity committee. For me volunteering just fulfilled some desperate need. My family were good neighbors and citizens but were perplexed by this need to volunteer. “Why don’t you get a paid job?” I did have various paid jobs – working in the fast food industry, hospital kitchens, cleaning; all while I was studying at college. If I look deep into myself, it was an opportunity to be a good person, following all the rules that had been taught to me in the Catholic Church, but it was also a way to shine in an occupation without all the restrictions and criticisms of a paid job. Once I started I couldn’t stop and sometimes it was advantageous to my career path and other times not. Let me list them.
• The Downs’s Syndrome Association
• Homeless People
• Dementia Patients
• Community Internet work
• Rural Transportation
• Psychiatric Hospital
• Animal Shelter
• Community Center
Some of these crossed over with paid work that I did with non-profit organizations but they were always at a slight tangent to give me perspective with life in general. My bronze medal is a beautiful thank you but all I really need is for the people I help to appreciate it. After some thought, I decided that I would probably never work in the field of drug and alcohol abuse because I could feel so little empathy or thanks.
I try very hard not to have my volunteer work made public and find it hard to understand those who do. A year or two ago, I attended a fancy event to benefit some charity. It was such a waste of money and time. Many of the people who attended were there for photo and social opportunities casting a dark shadow on the original intent of the charity. My father in law was a both a devout Christian and Rotarian. We had many conversations about the intent of the Rotary Club. I have no doubt that their scholarships and charitable donations have helped thousands of people but I feel unsettled about charitable work that has a really obvious benefit to the giver. Not only do you have the status of belonging to the group but you benefit from connections to each other and a social club. It sits badly with me and the Rotary Club is just one example of many other groups like that.
I accept that volunteering almost always gives us something tangible back but the intent should be fully giving without receiving anything, even gratitude. There is always someone who does something utterly remarkable such as opening their homes to complete strangers during Hurricane Katrina. In Egypt I was in awe of the volunteers who volunteered with working horses in deplorable conditions or illegal refugee prisoners from Sudan mostly. Sometimes I worked on the periphery, donating funds or a reference to a refugee who had been offered citizenship in a Western nation because they were penniless or employing someone from a poor African nation that did not have refugee status.
My husband and I give generously to a variety of charities benefiting animals mostly but most of my current volunteering is with humans. I speak a smattering of a few languages and recently someone that I helped asked me to lean down so they could give me ‘besos’ – kisses in Spanish. That is all I ever need.
Happy 4th July and remember to be a good citizen wherever you live.