It’s Monday morning and I’m just back from a brilliant weekend away on the Gippsland Lakes volunteering at a family camp. I was busy for the whole weekend and today I’m a bit tired and sunburnt, but I would go back to camp in a heartbeat if someone asked me to.
I’ve been involved with Camp Cooinda for about eight years now, and each summer I spend a few weeks with hordes of 12-18 yr olds canoeing and camping on the lakes. This weekend was a bit different to that, with many of Cooinda’s ex-leaders introducing their young children to camp for the first time. For three days, the usual mayhem of fifty teenagers was replaced with an entirely new kind of cheerful chaos, yet at the heart of it, it was still Cooinda and I know that I gained something amazing from being there.
You might be wondering why I’m telling you about my experiences – after all, I’m not a student and this blog usually celebrates student achievements. Yet I believe that my volunteer experience is not unique. Sure, you may be involved with a different activity that’s more in line with your interests (24/7 with kids for an extended period is understandably not everyone’s cup of tea!), but any successful and rewarding volunteer experience will make you feel the same sense of accomplishment that I currently feel.
As for me, I always find it a bit funny if someone says ‘you must be a good person because you volunteer’, because I know that volunteering has made me a better person. My relationship with volunteering is reciprocal, and I get out as much as I put in. Being involved with Cooinda has given me practical skills, friends, and has contributed greatly to my general outlook on life.
In a way, volunteering is quite a strange idea – the idea of getting something from giving something seems to contradict modern economic theories like free market capitalism. Yet it’s true. You really do gain something from sharing your time and skills. According to the OECD Better Life Index, people who volunteer tend to be more satisfied with their lives than those who do not.
Volunteering should not be a one-way street, and if you feel that you are not getting anything out of volunteering I would encourage you to consider whether you are involved with the right organisation. After all, not all volunteer positions are created equal and like any happy ever after, sometimes you need to kiss a few frogs before meeting your true match.
What are your thoughts and experiences with volunteering? Do you find it as rewarding as I do? As ever, we’d love to hear about your experiences and would welcome guest blog posts!