05 April 2012

Why I Volunteer

It's been a busy couple of weeks at the farm as we welcomed our first resident artist of the year, and started preparing for spring planting and building projects. But one of the things that I've been working at hardest is fundraising. I’m raising money to volunteer in Ghana, where I’ll  be doing puppetry with kids in rural villages. The project is called Puppets Without Borders, and I anticipate it could very well be one of the most interesting things I've done in my life.

It takes a lot of effort to raise all that money and coordinate my first international project, not that I mind one bit.  But it has given me cause to reflect on why I volunteer.

Kids & their shadow puppets, from my first trip to Labrador
as a volunteer with ArtsCan Circle
I got my first job as a volunteer when I was a teenager. It was playing sports with adults with disabilities, which is weird because I’ve never been into sports, but I think I was looking to get something on my resumé. From those unlikely beginnings I’ve volunteered fairly regularly: at charity events, for friends’ theatre shows, at environmental events, for a filmmaker I admired, and more recently through ArtsCan Circle.

What does a volunteer look like? Here's a few examples from
ArtsCan Circle; that's me second from the right
I don’t recall my parents ever extolling the virtues of volunteering, although all three of my sisters are also regular volunteers. I thought this was kind of interesting, so I asked them: "Why do you volunteer?"

Meagan, the eldest of my younger sisters, is a serial volunteer, having given her time to many different organizations. “I volunteer because it makes me feel connected to whichever community I happen to be living in. It also allows me to cross paths with so many diverse people that I otherwise would never meet: village children in Thailand, veterans living on the streets of Ottawa, politicians, intellectually disabled individuals... which has in turn helped me to understand where I fit in the world.”

Meagan with one of her students in Thailand
My sister Brittany volunteers because she’s passionate about the causes she supports. “In all honesty, I far prefer my volunteering with AARCS to any paid job I have ever had. I know that the dogs need people to survive, it's actually a life and death situation for them which makes it feel more needed and urgent than anything. I feel appreciated even though the animals can’t talk; their behaviour towards those that save them proves they know they got lucky.”

Brittany (R) volunteering for the Alberta Spay & Neuter Task Force
My youngest sister, Caitlin, wrote a great blog post about her experience as a volunteer teacher in the slums of India. She writes: “There are people all over the world that have every opportunity at their fingertips and waste it. Then here are these children with every ability for greatness, and will probably never get the opportunity… It took some of the poorest children in India to teach me to be happy with what I've got. So many of us look at our neighbors and wish we had more. In India, countless times I saw people look at their neighbors and be thankful for not having less. This is the most profound thing I will take with me from my time there. For a country with so many overwhelming problems, there are some things that they understand much better than we do in the West. One of these things is gratitude.”  You can read the Caitlin’s full blog post here.
Caitlin (centre, facing camera) with her students in India
So why do I volunteer? It’s not like I’m a particularly wealthy person – all the energy expended into volunteering could very well be put into making more money for myself. But I didn’t become an artist to make money. In fact I very much enjoy interacting with the world in a non-monetary way, which is one of the reasons we have so many free and charitable events at Small Pond Arts. We charge money when we need to, but what we do here is about more than just money (I know, this is a pretty radical concept for a small business). There is a purity about working hard for no pay cheque; you do it because you believe what you are doing matters. 

I think volunteering makes me a better person, and working as a volunteer artist has definitely made me a better artist. I’ve enjoyed countless new experiences, made new friends, seen new parts of the world, and felt deeply rewarded for my efforts. It's helped me discover my passion for teaching art, and has given me the gift of being a mentor, role model and friend to so many wonderful children. We all have the power to make the world a better place, and volunteering is a great way to play your part. There are so many people and organizations that can use help, and it’s not too hard to find a volunteer position that caters to your interests and availability.

I believe that volunteering encourages kindness and generosity in the world, and we could definitely use more of those. If you don’t volunteer already, maybe you’ll consider giving it a try?

If you’d like to support my trip to Ghana, our online fundraising campaign is running until May 23, 2012. Donations of any size are greatly appreciated.  You can find out all about the project, and donate online, by clicking on the image below.

1 comment:

  1. I found this on Reddit:

    TIL In the United States,83.9 million adults volunteer. Their contribution is worth $239 billion to those they help.