Lessons I learnt from Volunteering
Some takeaways I have picked up along the way
1) The right mindset is all that matters
This is the most important thing I learnt. As long as I approach someone with a sincere and humble attitude, 95% of the time, the person will reciprocate in a positive manner. Be it kids, elderlies or whichever slice of the demographics you are working with, as long as one approaches with the correct mindset, which is one that is sincere and respectful, one will never go wrong. With the correct mindset, everything falls into place, the words that you use, the body language you display, all these would be appropriately displayed. Your attitude will determine how others perceive you. I always think of it as a mirror, you treat the person with respect and the person will treat you with respect.
2) Communication is key
I used to think that spoken language is not everything, till today, I still agree to a large extent. Because presence and the willingness to interact is the most important and that is true, after working with some Maciks who only can speak Malay, I realised that just being there counts for a lot. Communication comes in many forms and just helping her out with activities and trying to communicate through gesturing still counts and if that can bring out a smile, it is sufficient. That being said, I have to say that being able to speak the language brings a whole new dimension to the experience. Communication is two way, being able to listen and being able to converse back is truly a whole different experience. You not only be able to engage better but also be able to empathise and appreciate the interaction better. This is where the stories are shared from a generation to another, this is where the life lessons are imparted, this is where you truly appreciate the diversity and the richness and depth of their lives. For me, this is the part I love the most. This is what keeps me going.
3) Be thick-skinned
This is the part that I am still learning and trying to become better. Perhaps it is because I was born and bred in a conservative Asian culture where there is a culture of collectivism. As such, I am rather inept at social situations. This becomes particularly pronounced when I have to make the first move to engage someone new. If the person reciprocates and is responsive then yay, if nay, it would be that moment of awkwardness which I have no idea how to react to. But what I learnt is that regardless, just be thick-skinned and just take whatever response as a response. Even if it is a negative one, it is also a response to you which you can take and learn from it. Just take it in your stride and either move to another person or think of another way to engage.
4) Do what you like
A lot of people ask me why I do not volunteer with kids. It is not because I cannot or dislike working with kids but rather I think as a volunteer, you are “paying” with your time and efforts, so you have a right to choose where you want to invest those time and efforts into. I like working with elderlies because of the stories they share with me, the things I learnt from them and so I choose to work with them, while others may have a passion for conservation or animals and they may invest their time in that instead. Regardless of where you go, as long you have your own genuine reason for doing that, just go for it. Because at the end of the day, you are “paying” with your own time and effort, so there is no need to feel obliged because you have the right to do what you like.
5) Commitment vs Passion
There will be some days that I do not feel like going. I will make up excuses not to go. These are the days where my passion will run dry, where other priorities in life will attempt to kidnap your time. On these days, I will force myself to go because I will tell myself that it is a commitment I make to myself. Somehow, all these “excuses” will eventually disappear when you are over there and everything will fall into place, the passion will resurface and it will be all worth it. So just stick to it and go. Unless it has become a point where going simply brings you no joy anymore then perhaps it is time to look for something new.
The worth of your life is not how much value you’ve added to your own life, but how much value you’ve created in the lives of others.