Is volunteering a waste of time?

posted in: Ethics 0

My immediate reaction to this question is another question. Why would anyone say so?

The reason I would ask such a question is because when you volunteer be it your time or services you do so of your own free will and often these have not been solicited and even then you can still walk away.

That being the case why then would someone make such a statement as “volunteering is a waste of my time”

I am not an expert at this but drawing from my personal experience of volunteering my time and or services that feeling of “waste of of time” arises when expectations on both sides have not been made clear or met.

I will illustrate this from my experience. I arrived here in the UK in 1991 and lived in Dalston East London for a while and apart my immediate family I didn’t know anyone else in Dalston and my working hours made it near impossible for me to make friends locally. One morning as I was walking to the shops I saw an advertisement in the window of a building occupied by the local Age concern branch. They were looking for people to visit elderly people in Homerton Hospital whom some reason or other didn’t have any visitors.

I was surprised to learn that they were people out there who did not have anyone visiting them whilst in hospital, because where I come from this is unheard of. But of course our African families tend to be very large.

I walked into the Age concern office and introduced myself and an hour later I was signed up for the volunteers training scheme prior to being allowed onto the wards or being attached to any of the patients. All of the trainees were local people and this met my need/desire of meeting and making friends with local people. We got on well as a group and continued to meet well after the training had ended.

I was assigned to a woman whose so had moved to Australia and this was the reason she has no one visiting here. I saw her every week and sadly she passed away six weeks after I started visiting her. I never felt that my time was wasted at all as my primary need or the reason why I had joined had been met.
Interestingly a few years later I used the experience I gained as a volunteer for age concern to gain a full time and paid position at another organisation. All things considered I gained a lot more out of this experience.

Sadly not all volunteering services go well as I was to find out when I volunteered by services to a school in Stirling Scotland. I helped with sourcing ethical clothing that could be used for the show. My expectations and certainly what was agreed was that I would be part of the show and present my work in Africa to a Scottish audience. From a business point f view this type of exposure is priceless and it would open up a whole new market so I gave all I could.

To my horror the school pulled out the day before I was due to travel to Stirling leaving me out of pocket and unable to recover my direct costs of my airfare as well as the money I had paid the ladies for the work they did.

Discussions are still underway to resolve this so I can’t say anymore than this. In this example I feel that the volunteering of my time to enable the school to access Fair Trade clothing from our producers in Tanzania was a waste.

Compare therefore the difference between the two tales/experiences!

If you have only experienced the first example you maybe encouraged to seek out more voluntary opportunities but on the other hand if the sum total of experience is as described in example two you would be forgiven for never wanting to give your time or services free of charge.

If you have been a volunteer I would love to hear from you with your experiences on what worked well as well as that which didn’t

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