Today I want to tell you of my experiences in volunteering and maybe to encourage you to consider this for yourself. I have no qualifications to speak to you, just a belief that "You and I can lead the way to a better world".
Today's world can look pretty depressing. Many millions of people do not have enough food to eat or clean water to drink. A great proportion of the world's population suffer from war, poverty, and lack of education. Governments and large multi-national companies do little to alleviate this; and often contribute to making things worse. On our own doorstep young people feel hopeless and disenfranchised.
We could conclude that nothing can be done about it; that the world's problems are too great; that there are too many of them. But those large seemingly insurmountable problems derive from a lot of small problems which we may be able to address. That's not so difficult and it can make a big difference to the people involved.
All around there are people helping out in scout groups, kids' football teams, local foodbanks and health charities. They raise money, but more than that, they give their time and effort.
In my case, I became involved in volunteering in Africa. Volunteering in Africa, or indeed anywhere else, was not something I had ever thought of doing. Funnily enough, a recent survey on why people get into volunteering concluded that the top reason for doing it was simply "being asked". I guess it was the same for me!
In the case of volunteering abroad, no matter how well prepared you think you are, you will be surprised, frustrated and sometimes bewildered by the reality of it. It's a continuous learning process and that is part of the joy and excitement of it all.
Alongside the high spots and joys of volunteering, there are inevitably things that don't turn out according to plan. In my case, with computer equipment there is always the risk of it not being used because of lack of confidence or its being damaged through lack of competence. There is no point in prolonging a culture of dependency by donating computers and walking away. Our overall plan is to empower local people to manage IT in schools for themselves. That brings me to local partnerships. It is no good going in with the best of intentions and providing the community with what you think they need. You must talk to the people involved and listen to what they want and what their priorities are.
Volunteering demands certain qualities in a person, like empathy, cheerfulness, adaptability and resilience. You must be prepared to work very hard at times and call on reserves of energy. It is often frustrating, particularly when obstacles seem insurmountable and beyond your control.
But however much you put into it will be repaid many times over. Doing what you set out to do, against the odds, gives a great sense of satisfaction and achievement. Working with others provides fun and leads to lasting friendships.
Margaret Mead, the distinguished anthropologist said "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
Anyone can do something to change the world for the better if only in a small way. What that thing is could just be decided by chance like it was for me. You may be lucky enough to have sponsorship from larger organisations who want to show their social responsibility by funding the project; but the energy, the enthusiasm and the passion to make things work comes from individuals.
So now it's down to you.
Find something to be passionate about, something that lets you contribute your own particular expertise or skill to help others. Find something to stretch and challenge you. There are opportunities all around you. Just take that leap into the unknown and have a go. For every person that tells you you're mad, there are always people ready to help and support you in your endeavours.
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