National Volunteer Week

Published on: 04/06/2021

The work of millions that is unpaid, but most valuable

Have you ever worked without getting paid? Ever signed up for a job and knew the only thing you’d get is a warm feeling about having done something good? No? Well, millions of people across the UK do just that. They give up their own time to get involved in social projects, environmental causes or to help others. Without them, many of those services, shops and places we take for granted couldn’t function and run. They are proof that time really is invaluable – as are their services, as to pay them is something that would cost money that isn’t there, or many people don’t have.

So, who are those people that are so selflessly offering their services to the public, to society, to the world? Some of us may immediately think of an older generation that has worked or has recently retired, eager to fill their spare time with something meaningful. Whilst this is the case for many, it is not just those wonderful ladies and gents that help others instead of focusing solely on themselves (and who would blame them?).It’s increasingly many young people who volunteer to help out, wanting to change something or take action for something they feel passionate about, be it environmental or humanitarian causes.

As I started thinking about writing about National Volunteer Week, I initially felt a little lost. How much did I really know about volunteers, what motivated them and kept them going, if monetary remuneration wasn’t an option?

I had been keen to sign up to become an ambassador for an eating disorder charity but the only work I had done in the last decade was paid. I was struggling to think of someone who did voluntary work in my own social circle, and a recent conversation with the founder of The OBS, Leah, was still ringing in my ears. Having recently been let down by people who said they’d do work for her unpaid, but then dropped out, she recounted that a certain accountability was often missing for some when they volunteer.

And then, suddenly, I remembered that I knew someone who volunteered for most of her adult life, and still did the odd bits here and there: My own mother. Whilst the context of my mother’s extensive voluntary work is related to a Christian church parish, the services offered were certainly never limited to only those who belonged to that parish. My mother, together with some of her friends, lead an exercise group for the elderly, putting on weekly sessions that didn’t just keep those ladies and gents mobile but for many of them it was a focal point during the week where they had company and contact with others. My mother also founded and led a women’s circle, where, in monthly meetings, they organised charitable events for women across the world that were less fortunate than us. They arranged presentations and films about parts of the developing world and then drummed up support for projects that aided those women in need. She was also an active member of the parish and church choir council, spending hours each week preparing for activities and events that were meant for the enjoyment of others. She never got paid a thing. Her actions had also rubbed off on me. As a kid, for nearly a decade, I gave up part of my winter holidays to dress up as one of the three wise men (from the Christmas story), trudged from house to house in the neighbourhood in icy temperatures, snow and sludge, singing songs and collecting money for children less fortunate than me. It’s a strange but great tradition in Germany, and I initially took part as a child, and later led my own group as a teenager. So, what motivated me and my mother? Like my decision to become a teacher and forsake my corporate job, it was about doing something meaningful, something that made a difference. It’s the knowledge that you want to do something with your life that makes this planet a little bit better, a little bit brighter, a little bit more human. I passionately believe that as human beings, we do carry that responsibility, to look out for other humans, for animals, for the environment. I also believe that no one is exempt.

However, doing something for nothing – something selfless to serve and help others – is certainly not something that anyone should feel pressured to do. As with everything, you need to be in a good position yourself to be able to give back. If your cup is empty, it’s pointless trying to let others drink from it. Naturally, your own well-being comes first. It’s nice knowing though, when you are able to volunteer your services, whatever they may be, that they really do make a difference in so many peoples’ lives.

So next time you walk past a charity shop or a service that is being run by volunteers, think that, without those humans serving their fellow citizens, those shops, services, institutions just would not exist. Our society would be a lot darker and hopeless without them.