The 5 December is International Volunteer Day, a day which celebrates the power and potential of volunteering. Having volunteered in different ways from a young age, I have been able to see first-hand the effect volunteering has, not only on those you are seeking to help, but also on you as an individual. Volunteering provides the opportunity for you to use your skills and talents to help others but also teaches you new skills and allows you to develop new talents. It is one of the best and most direct forms of charity. It is something anyone and everyone is able to do and costs nothing but your spare time. I want to make clear that I am not disregarding aiding the work of charities by giving money and would, without hesitation, encourage you to donate to a charity you are passionate about. However, I would like to use my past experiences of volunteering, from local youth and children groups to working overseas in Zimbabwe with International Citizen Service (ICS), to suggest that volunteering is one of the best uses of your time. 

The primary reason for and most obvious benefit of giving your time is the impact it has on those you are seeking to help. Having volunteered at a local youth group, I know how just spending 5 minutes talking to a teenager can have a real impact on their lives. I have seen these young people develop as individuals and it is definitely worth the couple of hours of my time that I donated each week. This is true of any time spent volunteering. You are able to have a direct and positive impact on the lives of people and societies around you. Volunteering with environmental groups on such things as litter picks or conservation projects are equally as beneficial and the impact is as, if not more, visible. Investing your time in volunteering is hugely appreciated by those who you are helping and can better society. 

Volunteering is a more personal and direct form of charity, which helps to alleviate the concerns that people have about the allocation of their donated money. It is true that donations to some charities are often whittled down after allowing for the charity’s expenses. Volunteering is definitely a way in which you can avoid this. The giving of your time means that you are able to directly see how you are helping people and impacting their lives; there is no doubt that your sacrifice is helping the people you want it to.  It can also give you a chance to know where you want to direct your money. If you can work with a charity and see that their received donations are reaching those it is meant to, you can feel more comfortable in directing your giving towards them. My time volunteering with a feeding project in the Philippines allowed me to see in person where that particular donated money goes. This means that I not only know that the money goes directly to helping those desperately in need, but I have friendships with the children it is going to. Please don’t let the misallocation of funds of some charities prevent you from wanting to help people. Find different ways in which you can help and direct your donations through volunteering in areas you are passionate about. 

As much as volunteering benefits those that you are seeking to help, there is no doubt that it inadvertently benefits you as an individual. Volunteering puts you in situations in which you might not be placed if you were simply working or in education. You meet and work with people who you wouldn’t have and learn skills that are applicable to so many areas in life. The developing of the individual that volunteering facilitates is promoted by ICS. They realise the benefits of volunteering for young people and the way in which it can cause them to become better citizens, which has wider benefits for society.  My time in Zimbabwe with ICS and Progressio allowed me to use the skills and knowledge I already had. An example of this is the ability to teach over 150 vulnerable children basic first aid or teaching sexual health and child rights in schools. However, it also allowed me to develop new skills and talents. The ability to work more independently and to have confidence in my ideas is a transferrable skill that I developed volunteering abroad. Also working within a team of national and international volunteers developed my ability to communicate well and taught me the benefits of compromise and patience. Volunteering within a team has also meant that I have established strong friendships with people from a range of different backgrounds but with a common interest of wanting to help people. Employers are also aware of the benefits of volunteering on an individual’s skillset and therefore having it on your CV looks great to a future employer. 

I can’t stress enough the value in volunteering. It impacts the lives of those you are volunteering to help but also you as an individual and this is directly visible. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time; giving 2 hours a week to work at a soup kitchen can make the world of difference to those people you serve. Most importantly volunteering shouldn’t feel like a chore. Enjoying what you do will make you more likely to start volunteering in the first place and to continue with enthusiasm. I enjoy singing and have a passion to help those who experience loneliness in society, so giving up some of my time on Christmas day to sing for those who would be lonely on Christmas day at my local church is something that I look forward to. Finding something you love doing and finding a way in which that can benefit others is one of the best things about volunteering. If you enjoy working with young people, volunteer at a youth group. If you prefer helping older people, see what charities around you help the elderly. If you enjoy playing sport, find a children’s sports team or youth group that you can volunteer for. If you enjoy travelling, travel with an international charity and volunteer abroad. Going to Zimbabwe with Progressio and ICS allowed me see the country in a way that I wouldn’t have if I had just travelled there. 

Although Christmas is a busy time of year, take some time to make an impact in your community.  Alongside your new year resolutions to lose weight or stop drinking, please consider making 2016 the year in which you learn new skills, make new friends and help others by volunteering!

Written by ICS Alumni Anna Lloyd (April – June 2015 cycle, Simukai Child Protection Program)