A friendly face at the entrance of the hospital, a reassuring word when the universe seems to fall apart after a positive result from a check up, a bit of company in the long days alone as pensioner, a walk in the park for a shelter dog……
All these gestures are often gone unnoticed, not seen in the frenzy of the everyday life. They are considered as due, expected, fully appreciated only by those who receive so much kindness. But who are the people who perform these brilliant actions? They are ordinary persons who have something in common: giving without expecting money back. Being a volunteer.
Becoming a volunteer: an altruistic mission or a selfish plan?
It is a common idea that becoming a volunteer is a pure act of altruism and who gives his time and energy without any remuneration is an angel and his decision a mission. Sometimes it is exactly like that. Let’s think about the doctors who travel to developing countries and offer their medical knowledge free of charge and often in a dangerous environment. Or about the Italian students who almost every year rush to the aid of people damaged by the floods in central Italy, and for this reason they earned the name of “Angeli del Fango”, Angels of Mud. In these cases, people are likely driven by the pure desire of doing something for the others, something that will make one feel useful to the society or to the world as a whole.
But it is not always like that. In other examples the motivation is more selfish: one does it for oneself, in order to feel better. In the majority of the situations the driven force could be a combination of altruism and egoism. In a survey on volunteering carried out in Austria in 2006, the desire to help others was the main stated motivation (93%), followed by more personal purposes such as meeting new friends (83%) or feeling more active (76%). It turned out that 8 out of 10 persons volunteer in order to apply otherwise unused skills and competences. For example: if a dentist has a creative spirit and enjoys painting, he can organize a painting course at the orphanage or turn the white walls of the hospital into flowers fields. If a banker likes to write and has a interest in new ideas……he can become a blogger at TEDxVienna! Volunteering can be the place where one’s inner passions are cultivated while doing something good for the community.
I give but I do not become poor.
Whatever is the motivation that pushes people to spend time and energy to improve other’s life, it is unquestionable that volunteering brings a lot back. One starts giving something of oneself and finishes in getting richer. And not only of the gratitude of those who receive, the smiles in their eyes, their words of thanks, the understanding that his own actions can change the place in which the volunteer works. Giving for free can have a lot of positive effects in oneself life.
First of all, it helps developing new abilities, such as communication and management skills, useful in every professional area. Moreover, it can be a way for networking, this activity that we always hear at career days and that nowadays seems essential in order to find a job. People who volunteer are usually enterprising persons coming from all different backgrounds: you never know which friendship could turn up useful one day!
Another positive effect of helping others is to have a better perception of being part of the community. Especially when coming from a different city or country, giving time for the common wellness can really make a difference in your integration to the new society. You can easily meet people, get to know the problems of the community and participating in finding solutions.
Finally, volunteering is a way to use the spare time in doing something different from what we do every day. It enriches our life of new interesting activities which will make us feel more positive and happier, while distracting from our own problems. For this reason, volunteering has been proposed to help with depression, increase life satisfaction, and even reduce the risk of mortality, making volunteering a kind of youth elixir.
Ready to volunteer? Here are the first steps to start.
If, after reading this article, you feel that volunteering seems a very good idea, you are already half way through! Becoming a volunteer is in fact easier than what people think.
The most important part is to find a topic for which you are passionate about. If you have a fun spirit and like playing with children, you could have a look at the RoteNasen organization, looking for people visiting children in hospitals and spend with them some funny hours! If poverty is the topic that moves you the most, you can consider taking part of Caritas or CARE Austria, which have different programs dealing with poverty and food emergencies. If animals are the creatures you feel the most connected to, you can consider volunteering at the Schönbrunn Tiergarten or Haus des Meeres, where you could clean cages and give food to the animals. Alternatively, you can help one of the dog kennels such as AnimalCare Austria, where you can have a walk with one of the dogs, bringing the animals to the veterinary by car or even host an animal in your apartment while waiting for an adoption.
Of course there are also times when help is needed urgently and the demand for helping hands is rising, as the current situation of refugees entering Austria. If you want to help, here are some initiatives:
- Fluechtlingsprojekt Ute Bock, the Viennese grand dame when it comes to offering help
- Flüchtlinge willkommen, a platform helping refugees to find spare rooms that private people are offering
- organize courses in a subject you know. For an example check out wellcomeTUcode from the Technical University Vienna where child refugees can learn how to code.
- for more projects visit the list of Spadtspionin!
Once you have found the topic and the right organization, it is important to be realistic with the time you will be able to give and honestly communicate it: it does not matter whether it is one hour per day, per week or per month, you can always do something good and the organization will know where you can manage to help in the best possible way.
In conclusion: roll up your leaves and be ready to start one of the most exciting and fulfilling experiences of your life!
P.S. If you are still uncertain about the power of volunteering, check out this TEDx talk of a volunteer firefighter who explains the importance of everyone’s small good actions.