THE UGLY TRUTH ABOUT VOLUNTEERING
Updated: Sep 1, 2019
Why should I give up my time for free?
The people who do it love it, and the people who don’t do it, often fear it. Volunteering, which by definition is to “work for an organisation without being paid”.
I’m a member of the executive team for a not-for-profit organisation that gives disadvantaged children the opportunity to go on an adventure holiday. We travel to Gippsland, Victoria for four days with 25-30 underprivileged children. We sleep in sleeping bags on bunk beds, have to walk to the outdoor toilet and showers, wear thongs in the shower, drive mini-buses, avoid mosquito plagues and ensure the children are always cared for. We do all of this for FREE and use our own personal leave from work. And to be completely honest, sometimes it's bloody hard work!
I’m sure for some people, this sounds horrendous. But to me, it is one of the most rewarding things I could ever do. And despite 14 of 16 leaders getting sick in winter, with me getting laryngitis, I’ll continue to do it indefinitely.
Now I can hear people thinking I’m an idiot and wondering why I’d do it. Let me explain….
It’s one thing to donate money to a charity. Yes you feel good, you’re making a difference and you can claim it back on tax (don’t scoff - we all do it). But to actually give up your time, give something back to another human, knowing that you aren’t getting anything (monetary or materialistic) in return is next level.
I grew up in the country, in a middle class family, where we couldn’t necessarily afford extreme luxuries and my parents couldn’t afford to send me to boarding school (I was angry about this for years); but we went on holidays every year. We went to the snow most years, we went camping all the time, I rode motorbikes, and we travelled to nearly every state in Australia on family holidays. I look back now and am so incredibly grateful for these opportunities as I got to experience some amazing things and learnt so many life skills on these holidays.
Compare my life, to the life the children on this camp live and it’s a complete contrast. Some of them have never been away from home, have never had sleep overs at friends’ houses, don’t live with their parents, are exposed to family violence from an early age (I didn’t know what family violence was until I was an adult), they’re also exposed to drugs, alcohol and sex from 9 years old or younger. Some kids don't know how to swim or ride bikes, have never seen a kangaroo in the wild, and for the majority, have never had the opportunity to just “be a kid”, or to enjoy the innocence of playing with your friends outside while your parents cook dinner and then sit around the table and talk about your days.
That’s the reality and it's heartbreaking.
So why do I do it? Because for four days, these children get to be kids. They’re in a safe place to let their barriers down, to know they aren’t in any danger and they get to do fun stuff. These tough, strong kids (crucial to their survival), are allowed to be soft and innocent. Some of the things they get to experience, depending on whether they go in summer or winter, include: kayaking; go tubing behind a boat; bike riding; swimming; go sailing; see dolphins and seals; do arts and crafts; have dance-offs; learn to bake; play a heap of games, and so much more. To give a child the opportunity to do things I always thought of as normal and assumed everyone got to experience, is an indescribable feeling.