The value of volunteering

Life is busy.  Working, raising children, volunteering, standing for regional council and attempting to stay in touch with my friends are a few things I’m juggling.

While I am successfully rallying against the glorification of being busy, in reality I feel time-poor.

This year’s National Volunteer Week theme is about making time.  Their research shows while 1.2 million New Zealanders volunteer, the main reason people say they don’t is due to a lack of time.

But there’s another way to look at it, starting with this useful definition from the Cambridge English dictionary: “a person who does something, especially helping other people, willingly and without being forced or paid to do it”.

Is simply being a person who cares for others the same as being a volunteer?  Is a parent a volunteer?  I’m definitely not paid to be a mum, although you could argue that I’m forced to do it!

In reality, lots of parents create time to be volunteers in the more traditional understanding of the term.  This week I attended a Puanga (Māori New Year) celebration at my son’s school, Carlton, and there were plenty of parents helping out, for which I’m grateful.

I’ve always been a “joiner” – no, not of the carpentary persuasion.  I’ve always been someone to latch on to an organisation or a movement.  One of my first forays was World Vision when I was a third former at Whanganui Girls College – I got my class to each bring in $1 a month so we could sponsor a child.  When I bought my first home some years later, I set up another World Vision sponsorship and have continued it since.

My volunteering has traversed writing biographies for Mary Potter Hospice patients in Wellington, coaching the National Park School’s junior basketball team, helping an immigrant from Tanzania learn to read through Literacy Aotearoa, crewing on Spirit of Adventure sailing trips around New Zealand, and being part of the Plunket team here in Whanganui.

It’s not a chore to volunteer when you’re doing something that is making a difference – you get an immediate positive return from the people you’re helping.  Plus I’m amazed at the skills and knowledge you can pick up – at Mary Potter, we had several half days of training before being permitted to volunteer with patients.  I learnt a lot about terminal illness and palliative care, even visiting a mortuary to understand what happens to bodies pre-funerals.

Volunteering gives you an opportunity to connect with people who you might not otherwise get to know.  The guy I was helping with his reading wanted to become a police officer and give back to the New Zealand community – I wish I’d stayed in touch with him as I don’t know if he has achieved his dream, but he was determined and working hard so I hope so.

Now I’m renting an office within the Women’s Network building in Whanganui, I’m constantly surrounded by good people volunteering and donating, whether it’s the Gonville knitting group and their hot water bottle covers or our regular wonderful volunteers who I consider my workmates.  There is such a range of lovely people dropping in with donations of clothes and shoes, blankets and books, or even on occasion a piece of carrot cake for us to enjoy!

My pure volunteering hours are pretty few at the moment – I’ve recently joined the phenomenal Sustainable Whanganui as a trustee and am still warming up to the role.  They’re an impressive bunch who are responsible for lots of good things happening on an environmental front in our town – I feel honoured to be alongside them.

Whatever you’re doing now as a volunteer, and for what you’ve done in the past and will do in the future, thank you for making time – kia ora mō tāu whai whā.  It’s not always easy to fit it in but being connected to others is good for us and good for our communities.