05.12.2011 - Social and Human Sciences Sector

Volunteering Matters: Light-up our World

© UNESCO / Jennifer Ehidiamen - Volunteering Matters

As I write this, volunteers all over the world are marking the International Volunteer Day (IVD), celebrating millions of people working hard and smart to advance sustainable development and peace in our world. The theme for this year is Volunteering Matters: Light-up our World.

What is volunteerism? It is simply defined by dictionary.com as the policy or practice of volunteering one's time or talents for charitable, educational, or other worthwhile activities, especially in one's community.

Volunteering is about giving. It is about rolling up our sleeves to get involved, take action and make a positive difference. There is no one person who was born with distinct volunteering skills. It is a culture we can all learn to imbibe.

There are many ways for young people to volunteer. But it is crucial to keep in mind that whatever platform you decide to serve on must be a process of service learning. That is, your volunteering must be a process of learning too.

Volunteers are not paid yet there are other ways they grow such as by giving. What people learn while volunteering - the experience, the network, the opportunities - are worth more than monetary payment.

But in the process of volunteering, we must not allow other areas of our lives to suffer- we must not use volunteering as an opportunity to escape from the reality of making a living and ensuring that we are psychologically and economically stable and responsible.

Recently, I was asked to reach out to a young man to take part in a project we were working on. At first he sounded very willing and enthusiastic about being involved. However, on realizing it was all based on volunteering, he pulled out.

According to him, he was already engaged in a lot of volunteering activities and had no more availability to volunteer on any more. Perhaps if we offer a form of monetary payment, he will reconsider.

I doff my hat in respect for this young man. Sometimes, the downside of volunteering is that we do not know how to express our interest and worth. As a result we keep jumping from one activity to another, only to feel exhausted and used with no sense of fulfillment and there are lots of people willing to use you.

In the process of volunteering, it is imperative, that we consciously give our time and talent but know the limit of how far we can go to avoid the volunteer fatigue that so often drain out the real impact we all make as volunteers.

Volunteering matters. We can all make it a habit to volunteer formally, within an organization or informally, in our homes/community. For example, as a professional, you can make out some hour to share your skills to help an organization grow. As a young person, you can volunteer to teach your younger ones, babysit or clean your neighbourhood.

It is by serving that we build empathy, learn leadership, light up the paths for others and stay connected to one another.

By Jennifer Ehidiamen

Read more by Jennifer Ehidiamen on her blog.

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This article was written by one of the Youth Bloggers of the 7th UNESCO Youth Forum. The ideas and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of UNESCO.




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