I often get asked why I decided to volunteer overseas. Mostly, I feel incredulous towards this question. As far as I am concerned, there are very few downsides to this opportunity. I get to travel, meet new people, try new food and experiences, do interesting and meaningful work, develop my professional expertise in a different and sometimes challenging environment… not to mention the fact that service feels good, in that sometimes-hard-but-usually-worthwhile way that eating right and exercising feel good. Sure, I had to set some important things aside for the time being, but I hope and expect that I will return a more compassionate, more interesting, more skilled, more resilient sister / daughter / girlfriend / friend / niece / granddaughter / employee / coworker / neighbour / mentor / board member / citizen / human being. It’s a small price to pay for so many rewards.
I think that it is the idea of serving others instead of ourselves that trips us when it comes to volunteering. It feels like a heavy burden to sacrifice our time, our relationships, or our earning potential for the benefit of others. I’ve definitely felt this way when it came to other volunteer opportunities, even if they required far less ‘sacrifice’ than this particular experience. Are we reluctant to volunteer because we are too focused on the fact that we are helping other people instead of ourselves, or is it because the benefits of many volunteer opportunities aren’t worth the sacrifice?
In Jamaica, I am routinely drawn into conversations about whether volunteerism is dead. Life can be tough here, and those sacrifices of time, relationships, and especially earning potential are a difficult pill to swallow if they are solely for the benefit of others. As I work with the YMCA to attract and retain volunteers to support their programming, we will have to think long and hard about this challenge. What can we do to help people see that they will personally benefit from volunteering with us? What benefits can we provide (and market!) that will make volunteering at the Y feel like the sweet deal it is, rather than a burden and a sacrifice?
Back in Canada, you are celebrating National Volunteer Week. Apparently, nearly 1/3 of Canadians are volunteers, one of the higher rates worldwide. I’m honoured to be a part of this tradition and proud to serve my community in Canada and around the world, but mostly I just feel lucky to be able to take advantage of this great opportunity. While everyone else is working late so they can afford a vacation (at Sandals Jamaica haha!) or taking a course so they can change jobs, I get to do it all AND I get the bonus good feelings that come with helping others. Why *wouldn’t* I volunteer overseas?!?