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[Commentary] Why volunteering makes life worthwhile?

Why volunteering makes life worthwhile?


Humans have the basic need to “make a difference” in others’ lives. A common method is to be a filial son/daughter to parents/elders and be a good parent to children/pets. In the natural order of life, we are interdependent on one another – both human and nature. While we want the best for our families, we may unintentionally cause problems for another.

Everyone believes they are doing the right thing in making this difference, but some areas are greyer. Not everyone is out to make a difference for fellow humans; some of us are here for animals or Earth. If all ‘helpers’ are here to make a difference to the same group of ‘receivers’, then there will not be sufficient people to ‘help’.

Even though it may not be obvious on whom your target subject are initially, there will be emotional hints when you are helping the right group if you truly believe in it.  For one, the target audience may be inspiring young girls to become contributing members to society, while for another it is to free the trapped dolphins.

To figure out which is your specific target group, offer your help to a wide range of people first – neglected children, low-income families, single parents, ex-convicts, sick patients, old folks, etc.  Or perhaps with dogs and cats at animal shelters, or birds and monkeys at nature areas, or fishes and corals underwater, etc.

When you are helping your right target group, you will instinctively do the right thing.  If your target group is to mentor young children, you may not feel as comfortable volunteering at an old folk’s home or animal shelter. Likewise, if you are an environment activist working to protect the rainforests, you may feel out of place at an orphanage.  The decision to be a regular volunteer is a commitment. While it may not require a long decision making process, it is important to manage the time allocation, emotional attachment and mental preparation. Ad-hoc volunteering may be a suitable activity for cleaning, it will create more harm than good when it comes to mentoring children.

Social workers and those working in non-profit organisations are like full time volunteers. They have an abundance of love and share readily with those who need them.  These are also the most empathic people around, our deteriorating world is improving because of these self-less individuals.

While there are many people/animals that need our help, it is not physically possible to help everyone. We need to manage the guilt of our inability to make a difference in those that slipped through our fingers. Focus on those we are able to reach out to, instead of those who crossed our path briefly and continued their suffering as we are not able to help.

Giving time and services freely without expecting any returns should always be the reason for volunteering. Donating money and things are feel-good actions but may not be useful. Most of this money goes into operating logistics, and less on the targeted subjects.

For example, public and corporations donate books frequently to children home to form a mini library, while it is a nice concept, most of these children read less than 10 of these books. Donating stationeries sounds appropriate, but it conditions children not to appreciate what they have because they know new pencils and markers will always be coming in.

In recent years, volunteering gained popularity in developed nations for an opportunity to experience life in developing countries. Unfortunately, it may be a tourist gimmick which do more harm than good.

Depending on locations and individuals, children/country folks were taught to lie to be orphans/suffering, some of the folks formed an emotional bond with short-term residents in which they had to deal with the permanent loss over and over, while others resented the wealthier volunteers who are luckier in biological lottery.

A problem is volunteers see from a single point of view. Volunteers cannot understand holistic problems like full time staff, or see it from the person they are helping. No matter how empathic or if previously in similar receiving position, volunteers usually see the semi-public semi-private glossy side of things. Sometimes these good intentions create bigger problems and worsen the situation of the people/animal/environment instead.

I have been volunteering as a mentor with young girls at a children home since 2012, spending an average of 2 hours weekly for over 40 times per year. While I have 2 official mentees, their friends joined in frequently and I had the opportunity to talk to 7 girls regularly. Every session is unique with my mentees and I learnt intangible wisdom from one another.  I share my real life experiences as an adult role model while they share their point of view as 7-10 year olds.

The most amazing experiences are those that are heart-warming, indescribable and unimaginable. While volunteers appreciate grateful smiles and thankful hugs, why we do what we do because we feel great when we volunteer.

The positive energy emitted from the spiritual connection between giver and receiver fills up our emotional love tank! The more love, time and money we give, somehow the more love, time and money we receive. Perhaps that’s the cyclical karma of life via Law of Attraction – what goes around, comes around.

In the ideal world, everyone gives their services freely in exchange for livelihood necessities. There are infinite health and wealth in this world, and sufficient food for everyone. Only when earthlings achieve an abundance mindset and an attitude of gratitude, society can progress to the next level of achievement – one measured by love, health and relationships, instead of success, wealth and fame.

Doris Chow, Freelance Writer for TIM

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