Article in brief: Volunteerism is a lot more than simply carrying heavy boxes in poor countries.
The moment my profession in the charitable sector is revealed, the conversation will most likely go as follows: first, the praise on my choice of work in this sector as there are very few of us. Next comes the curiosity about the nature of my job. This is then followed by the “aaahs” and the “wows” as I recount my life-changing work missions and adventures, until I finally get the inevitable request: “I would love to volunteer for your charity, please take me with you to Africa”. When then faced with my blank expression, I get this request: “I’ll do anything, I’ll cook, and I’ll clean and even carry around heavy boxes”.
I understand where these requests are coming from. I comprehend the altruistic eagerness of people wanting to make a difference, especially in this day and age, where our competitive careers have transformed our lives into a rat race. Not everyone will voice this, but deep down, we all have a compelling need to “heal the world, and make it a better place”.
Yet, every time I get this request, I wonder where this notion came from. Why is it that when I offer local opportunities, interest in volunteering is lost altogether? Why has the definition of volunteerism been narrowed in our minds to only mean travel to poor countries and carrying heavy boxes?
Eight years in this field have shown me more rejections to volunteering opportunities in the UAE than probably Harvard applications. Don’t get me wrong. I am all for this notion of “exotic” volunteering. Being aware of humanitarian issues from afar does not even come close to the life-changing experience one gets with getting their hands dirty in the field. But with so many people fixated on this idea, it would serve as a good reminder to know that travelling to poor countries is not the only way to volunteer.
Volunteering is all about giving your time and effort for a greater good and the opportunities around you are plentiful. It shouldn’t really matter whether you are offering your services in Africa or in your local neighborhood, as long as you are dedicating your time and effort for a positive impact. If done wholeheartedly, then the gratification will be the same, maybe even more rewarding.
We are living in the age of volunteering, where every person has a plethora of options to give back and more individuals than before are dedicated to giving back in an impactful way. It is now rare to come across an individual who doesn’t have volunteering added to their credentials. But before looking that far away for opportunities, let us revert our eyes to our surroundings and find meaningful, innovative ways of volunteering nearby.
Shurooq, an Emarati from Dubai, has been on a journey of self-discovery ever since she shifted career from Science to humanitarian where she found joy. Her interests include traveling and foreign films. Shurooq’s column is influenced by those distinctive moments that give a deeper perspective on life.