I recently started volunteering at AIDHA, an organisation that gives computer classes to domestic workers as part of its initiative to equip them with business skills so that they can start an online business in their hometown to earn extra income.
It was a conscious choice I made, especially in deciding which organisation to volunteer for.
Being able to take on a batch of students and watching them marvel at simple computer strokes (think Ctrl + C and Ctrl + V) and rejoice at improving their typing speed gave me a deep sense of fulfilment.
These people sacrifice their day off to come and learn from me, and it is indeed a humbling experience.
But if you ask me if I have an ulterior motive (for a lack of a better word), then yes, it is something I’m planning to add on my resume for when I plan to apply for an MBA.
Does that make my volunteering any less valuable? Not in my book!
Just to digress: If you think about a politician advocating for a community, is he doing so because he truly cares or because he wants the people’s vote? I say both.
While it’s not an act of volunteering per se (a political career is a pretty well remunerated professional activity), a politician is still devoting his/her time to improve people’s lives. Sure, part of his job is securing votes, but that doesn’t mean the policies and changes he/she advocates are any less sincere than those of a grassroots leader, for instance.
The point I’m trying to make here is that just as politicians’ intents can be scrutinised, analysed, and even questioned, so can volunteers’ motivations.
People volunteer for various reasons, but what happens if one reason is less noble than the others? Does that then imply that one should not volunteer at all?
By my loose definition, ‘to volunteer’ is the will to do something without expecting anything in return.
Mandatory Pro-Bono work
For instance, if lawyers are against a mandated pro-bono work of 16 hours a year (not much if you think about it), that in itself already signals people’s reluctance in being ‘forced’ to volunteer.
It’s one of those ‘damned if you, damned if you don’t’ situations, and it shouldn’t be the case.
People should have the freedom (of reasons) to volunteer, as long as the effort fulfils the intended purpose. If I choose to be late for my volunteer work, not teach according to the syllabus, then yes, that would reflect badly on me. Otherwise, I’m still giving back to society, and making sure that I do a good job of it.
Speaking of which, there’s a new movement in Singapore called the CHOPE FOOD for the NEEDY. It’s essentially pre-paying your favourite hawker stall so that they can give away food for those in need. This is inspired by Italy’s decade-old tradition of pre-purchasing cups of coffee, called suspended coffees, for those who need a hot drink to stay warm but can’t afford to.
It’s a simple volunteering gesture, and you’ll go away knowing that you’ve helped those in need sleep on a full stomach, even if it’s just one person.