What Is Volunteering Good For??? (Or – What Makes A Good Volunteer???)

I suppose the benefits of volunteering depend on who you speak to – as well as the kind of “Volunteering” you are talking about.

I suppose you are now looking at the above paragraph and thinking there is only one sort of “Volunteering”??? The sort where you freely give up your time to do something for the community???

Allow me to educate you as to the other form of “Volunteering” which I came across when I was on Jobseeker’s Allowance (aka “The Dole”).

The form of “Volunteering” which the DWP decided to subject long-term Jobseekers to was actually worse than Zero-hours contracts.  It was supposed to give us experience as well as padding for our CV’s.  You couldn’t even really call it “Volunteering” because (a) it was a condition of getting your Jobseeker’s Allowance and (b) it was definitely not the sort of job which would have improved my CV.  (Apart from which – the task I was given was definitely not appropriate for someone with my sight problem.)

Don’t get me wrong – the correct form of Volunteering can not only be something good to put on your CV but it can also showcase your skills to other people.  This can help you in your endeavours to find the job which will suit you the most.

I volunteer in two ways – one of which didn’t start off as me considering it to be volunteering and the other uses some of my skills from my former job (and I get doubly rewarded for it).

I will start with the easiest one to explain.

I type up the spreadsheet for The Real Junkfood Project in Leicester.  This helps the project run smoothly, gives me a sense of giving something to the community, and gives me one night a week where I don’t have to cook for myself (as well as a source of food to take home – keeping my foodbill down and keeping good food out of landfill).

The other form of Volunteering I do centres on inkyworld (my personal blog).  I use my blog to educate people about the challenges I face due to my sight problem.  I do not get paid for this at the moment but I am hoping this will change in the near future.  Some of my blog posts have appeared in a magazine run by the people in charge of the “Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living” (LCiL) where I attend a weekly “Social Media Cafe”.

Even though educating people about the challenges I face due to my sight problem can sound extremely selfish I see it as attempting to add to the general debate about attitudes to “Disability” in general.  This also connects with the sense of giving something to the community I mentioned earlier – as well as putting a lifetime’s worth of experience to very good use.

The other thing Volunteering is good for is showcasing skills (and personal achievement) which it is impossible to get paper qualifications for.

In my case – my sight problem has given me skills which very few other people who are “able-bodied” and have 20/20 vision have. Or – they may have them but they do not rely on them to the same extent in their daily life.

“Adaptability” to an “able-bodied” person – for example – may mean being able to switch between tasks at a moment’s notice.  To me it can mean finding an alternative route to the workplace in order to avoid hazards (or even just coping with bright – wall to wall – sunshine).  Or even working out how to get a box downstairs without breaking my neck in the process.

Volunteering is good for lots of things.  However, I would strongly advise you to only volunteer in places where you can either learn a new skill or use skills you already have.  Most of all – I would advise you to volunteer only when you know you are not going to put your welfare at risk.  You know your own limitations better than anyone else does.  For example – putting me in a situation where I have to mop and sweep a selection of staircases in different lighting conditions is most definitely not conducive to my health or happiness (I was forced to do it as part of my Jobseeker’s agreement).

I was told by someone that true Volunteering is actually selfish.  After all, you are giving up your time – when it is convenient for you – to do something which makes you happy.  The fact that it also benefits the wider world is an added bonus.

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