Volunteering … More Than A Label


Salma, Karima and Laila met at Dublin airport when their flights were delayed because of the weather conditions. They lived in different European cities and were travelling to visit family, attend weddings and explore. What they had in common and got them into a heated discussion was their strong opinions about volunteering. Giving up some of one’s time and effort for no financial return.

Salma volunteered for her local hospital to look after and support children with disabilities. She had a son  who passed away five years ago. She benefitted and appreciated the work of the hospital staff and volunteers in supporting her and her family and she felt that by volunteering there she was giving back. Salma was excited for her trip ahead but also eager to return because she already missed the children at the hospital.

Karima regularly cooked for her local community whenever there were functions. Her food was delicious and she was good at managing the volunteers who helped her in the kitchen. She was the go to person to cook for fundraising events and bazaars. Karima was looking forward to a long and restful to visit her brother and his family. She needed the rest.

Laila was fascinated by these women’s stories.  She could not see the point in working and doing something for ‘free’. Anyway, she was too busy with life and work. Even this trip had to be carefully planned. She had to because it was her best friend’s wedding.

Sometimes labels do not help

Perhaps Laila was only thinking of one type of volunteering. Sometimes labels do not help. When Laila’s friend was preparing for her wedding, Laila was more than happy to help her. She helped her in choosing outfits and colour schemes. Because her friend was a single mother,  Laila helped with looking after her daughter when she had errands to run. Perhaps in talking about ‘volunteering’ she forgot that she did lend a helping hand to others because she simply could and liked to.

Though Karima’s experience sounded positive, there was an undertone of dissatisfaction. A sense of release by going away or perhaps running away! Karima loved working with people and was good at what she did. She felt torn between a sense of obligation and the pull of rebellion. But rebelling against what?

Life has become so hectic that we hardly make time to rest and look after our wellbeing

Salma heard that whisper as Karima was talking about what she does and where she was travelling. Salma wondered that maybe, just maybe, Karima was exhausted. “Life has become so hectic that we hardly make time to rest and look after our wellbeing”, Salma remarked. Something she learned the hard way while coming in terms with the death of her son. Salma, Karima and Laila absolutely identified with the need to pay attention to their own wellbeing. That on the path to caring for others it is vital that one remembers themselves and their needs.

For Karima, her need at that stage of her life was to be recognised and have influence. She had run the kitchen for years, bazaar after bazaar and have seen and moaned about the state of the appliances, the tiles and the way purchases were made. She was getting frustrated and in that moment saw herself part of the management team who decide on how the funds raised will be spent. She was amazed that that was what she wanted. To have the say in how things are run. She felt the tingle of excitement, “Why not?!”. A seed was planted.

It is a wonder how people come together and separate in what seems like a coincidence. But is it really?

But is it really a coincidence?

Laila returned from the Ecuador having attending her friend’s beautiful wedding, shedding tears of happiness and making goofy faces posing for pictures. She had decided to volunteer for a side project at work. She wanted to develop her skills because it was about time for her to put herself forward for a promotion.

Karima spent three glorious months in sunny California and came back well rested and tanned. Her first community event appearance was to the Annual General Meeting where she nominated herself to join the board of trustees. To her surprise and pleasure, she gained majority vote. Her self-nomination motivated other women to vote and join. It was a turning point for her and her community.

Salma did much pondering and self reflection during her exploration of Canada.  She had spent time searching for her “What next?”.  She came back with a knowing that the journey of self exploration will continue for a little bit more. In the meantime, she continued to be there for those children and their families with strength and gratitude that she could.

What’s your story of serving others?




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