As we join the celebrations around the world to mark International Volunteer Day (Dec 5th), we proudly applaud our students and past pupils volunteering with different communities and organisations. We also remember all our Peru Crew, Lourdes Helpers, Eucharistic Ministers and all those who have served as school and bigger community volunteers responding to different needs. IVD 2022 celebrates the theme of solidarity through volunteering.
Alumnae Caoilfhionn Casey shared her thoughts on volunteering in one of the sessions of the European Youth Agora, Erasmus+ Project. She highlighted that , ‘Through volunteering we learn empathy for others and their situations. It is easy to sympathise from afar and donate, but it is much more valuable to see the impact that we, as individuals, can make. ‘
In July of this year, I travelled to Guadix, a small town in the south of Spain with an amazing history and beautiful landscape. I, however, was not there for tourism but to help out in the town where there is a visible economic divide which has existed for hundreds of years. The city centre is an area of affluence, whereas the people of the cave district, live in relative poverty. My role was assisting the teachers in a summer school for the children of the caves and from a nearby foster home as well.
Each day we gave the children breakfast and lunch, had classes about issues such as healthy eating, the environment and recycling, danced, painted and played games. Due to my lack of prior knowledge of teaching techniques, I learned from the other volunteers and gained experience throughout the two weeks.
We also brought the children to the local pool and to an adventure park. The joy that they received from the school outings spoke volumes about how beneficial this programme is to them.
At first, I did not realise the gravity of the situation. I attended my first few classes, and seeing how happy the children were, I was unaware of the financial situations of their families. It wasn’t until my volunteer group got a tour of the caves in which many of the children live, from the principal of the school, that I saw the reality of their lives. Whilst the idea of going to school in summer is played out as a punishment in most tv shows, it was clearly a blessing for these children. It was a surprise to me to see this level of poverty in an EU country and this really awakened me to a reality outside my own.
Through speaking to the programme organisers, I learned about the backgrounds of the families and the community as a whole. For some of the children these school meals were the only ones that they would be eating that day, and so we had to ensure that all the children were finishing their food. Many of the children have complex family backgrounds also.
The tasks were simple, but fulfilling. Gaining the trust of the children was incredibly rewarding, and when they would run up to me at the start of every day, and when some even introduced me to their parents, I felt as though I was becoming part of the tight-knit community of Guadix.
Despite their situations, the people of Guadix are some of the happiest and most generous people that I have ever met. I still often think of their smiles and laughs and how I felt extremely comfortable in their presence. One particular incident of a woman offering us some of her food, of which she only had a small plate, has stuck with me to this day.
My fellow volunteers helped me through the experience. Moving in with 8 strangers in a foreign country and speaking in a different language, was somewhat of a terrifying prospect, but we connected immediately and formed an amazing group of friends whom I confided in and bonded with.
I miss the amazing children of Guadix, but am aware that I will never forget them. Whilst I went to that school with the intention of sharing my knowledge, I think that they in fact taught me much more than I did them.
I will now move on and answer the question Does Volunteering Matter?
I can start this off with a simple yes, volunteering does matter. When privileged with an affluent community and prosperous life, I believe that it is a moral obligation to help in whatever ways you can. Volunteering is about taking on a role as an active citizen within the community from which you have benefitted and continue to benefit from every day.
I was fortunate to receive a great education, and two parents who achieved high levels also. I believe that education is the key to eradicating societal inequalities, and in my life is one of the best ways which I can give back. I feel it important to give others the chance to succeed and reach their dreams, just as I have, thanks to my advantageous upbringing.
As a college student I know how hectic life can feel sometimes, and how we can believe that there isn’t possibly any time in our days to give up to those around us when we have little time to think of ourselves.
Horace Jackson Browne Jr. once said, “Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.” I personally, have found this quote to be an accurate representation of how volunteering has affected my life. From helping out in nursing homes, soup runs, kids’ clubs and more, I have reaped more rewards than I have from any other aspect of my life. The joys and rewards are very hard to quantify and describe.
I think pride is a key word in the discussion. I am proud of myself for making small sacrifices to donate my time to others. I have met amazing, like-minded people, and some of my closest friends.
Value is another key word. Volunteering teaches you to find value in work, not in rewards. Whilst I was in Guadix I enjoyed every day of the experience, because I knew that what I put in, I would get out. I think this is a great work ethic which simply cannot be learned from a job with a salary.
Empathy is the final word that will help me describe the importance of volunteering. Through volunteering we learn empathy for others and their situations. It is easy to sympathise from afar and donate, but it is much more valuable to see the impact that we, as individuals, can make.
Volunteering is not a sacrifice but a gift to volunteers and recipients alike. As a business student I am surrounded by critics who believe that in having an interest in business and the economy I cannot also care about people and societal welfare. I am aware that taking the time out of my day to think of others is vital.
I agree that travelling abroad to help others may seem strange when there are many people where I am that need help. I however believe that it is good for personal development and is a completely different experience of volunteering. Leaving Guadix was not the end of my volunteering journey but only the beginning. Volunteering is an important part of my life which I encourage my friends to join me in. It is amazing for your personal well-being.
Teresian School Class of 2021, currently studying global business in Trinity College