40th Annual National Volunteer Week

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWell, here we are. National Volunteer Week is upon us (April 6-13), and it has been a part of the April calendar for four decades. It is a week for charitable and philanthropic organizations to recognize and laud the volunteer force, without which most could never continue. Volunteer work is the lifeblood of most active social change around the world. That is not to suggest that for-profit work doesn’t move mountains for positive impact…but the volunteers, the unpaid blood/sweat/and tears gang, really makes the sea change in communities. It is never for money. It might occasionally be for glory (even if only glorified in our own eyes). Mostly, giving selflessly for others or a cause is all about being human. Respecting connection. Touching other lives because we can, because that is what we are meant to do. Being open to receiving service is much more difficult than giving of ourselves, and both sides of the equation are noble.

There has been a spate of recent articles making the social media rounds about how international volunteering is all about making the privileged volunteer feel superior while doing nothing for, perhaps even harming, the communities they go to serve. I mourn this negative attention based on tiny individual experiences that people extrapolate to be condemnation of the entire venture of giving.

Give. Of yourself. That is all.

If you tried a volunteer stint and it wasn’t a good fit for your desires, skills, needs, personality, etc…move on, but don’t stop giving. That would be tragic–for you, most of all. Are there people for whom balance of power and inequality issues get in the way of being of good service? Yes. Are there shady businesses cropping up, like false orphanages for “orphanage tourism” to try and capitalize on the best intentions of visitors? Sadly, yes. Does this mean there is no need–hell no! If you have been burned by an illegitimate service organization, don’t try and make that mean that the system is broken. Warn the rest of us, and find your next volunteer opportunity that sends you home wiping your eyes from endless gratitude that you got to be part of something huge. THOSE experiences are everywhere. If being of service to a person or community of need much greater than your own confronts or triggers you–go work on behalf of endangered species, or clean up the beach, or advocate in front of congress for better air quality, or work a charity race/walk/cycle/swim/etc event for a health cause that inspires or has touched you.

There is a volunteer opportunity that will light your fire uniquely and astoundingly and because of it, you will never be the same. If you haven’t found it on your first, or even fourth try, you mustn’t think it is the volunteering that is wrong…and you mustn’t, ever, discourage others from giving of themselves. You steal from them such light they may never know they have.

Give. Of yourself. That is all.

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