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.
The kids finish the four days, wishing that the camp went for longer, that they got to play with their new friends for longer and they got to do more activities. Me and the other leaders leave completely and utterly exhausted and can't wait to get home. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Don’t get me wrong, despite finishing the week with very little to no sleep due to the kids talking late at night, maintaining our responsibilities, medical emergencies, early mornings or because we’ve been sleeping in a sleeping bag in a single bunk; the camp is so much fun. You get energy from the energy created by everyone else. The activities are nonstop and super fun and you’re mostly surrounded by laughter and enthusiasm (minus the occasional tantrum) for four days.
And of course, there are the other leaders on the camp. They are some of the most inspiring people, who are also prepared to give up their time to allow less fortunate people the opportunity to go on an adventure holiday. They are some of the best people I have ever met in my life. These individuals are so selfless, and they genuinely care about making our world better. Being around them makes me want to be a better person.
I can’t actually explain the sense of satisfaction I feel at the end of the week. It’s more than happiness. It’s more than gratitude. It’s more than a bit of fun (and it is a lot of fun). But there’s a deep rooted sense of something that makes me feel like a better human. I’m doing something that allows children the ability to do something they wouldn’t normally be able to do.
I don’t want anything in return – because the feeling I get at the end of the camp is more than anyone could ever give me. Maybe it’s a form of love, I’m not sure, but it’s nurturing and it’s purposeful and it’s meaningful.
Now… I realise these types of camps will NOT be for everyone. I’m not silly. But if you feel like there’s something missing in your life, or you aren’t doing or giving back enough, I urge you to volunteer in some way. It might be at a soup truck, the salvos or a camp. But give it a shot and see how you feel at the end.
If you know something else that gives you the same sense of satisfaction, let me know – cos I want in!