Today is the International Volunteer Day!

The day aims to thank all volunteers for their efforts, and to highlight the importance of volunteer work in promoting peace and sustainable development across the globe.

International Volunteer Day holds a special importance for me. My first experience of real volunteer work happened, not so long ago, in 2009. I was on my last year in high school and decided to join the school’s Habitat for Humanity club. Habitat for Humanity is an organization that aims to help “families escape the nightmare of housing poverty.” Our high school club arranged various fundraising events throughout the school year, and in May ten of us travelled to Krabi, Thailand to help rebuild a home to one of the families who lost their house in a tsunami a couple of years before. For me the experience was both fun and exciting, but I now feel that I didn’t understand the full meaning of our work until much later.

The second time I decided to volunteer was at the end of last year, in December 2011. I had taken part in a university action project that focused on helping victims of sexual violence in Rwanda. After the semester was over, five of my classmates and I decided to carry on with the project independently. We’ve now established a small organization called Women for Rwanda. For the past 12 months we have been raising funds and raising awareness in London. One of the highlights of the project so far was when my colleague and I travelled to Rwanda this past September and met many of the women who our project is aiming to help. Our website is still under construction, but you can currently find us on Facebook.

Finally, the third time I volunteered was this past May. I travelled to Cambodia for a month to teach English to rural village, the village of Bakod in the Southern Takeo province. I ended up teaching the youngest group, kids aged from 3 to 6 years. I stayed in the village for four long weeks (in the lack of internet, television, or electricity in general the days felt very long!) but when it came time to leave I felt that I hadn’t done enough, and that my stay had been somewhat superficial. It was, of course, rewarding that the kids could sing Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in English, and that they could spell their names and the names of colours, but I still left Cambodia thinking that I could have done so much more. I now know that the more you do, the more you also can do.

There are two quotations that I would like to highlight on International Volunteer Day this year. The first one is something I saw on Pinterest, “Do it, and then you will feel motivated to do it.”  This is perhaps not the most inspiring of quotes, but as many of us know, starting is often the hardest part.

The second quote I’d like to bring up comes from the poet, feminist, and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” This is what volunteering has been for me: doing my best, and then doing better. And, I know that sometime in the future, I will do even better.

I also sometimes hear the phrase, “charity starts from home.” After my travels this year, I’ve come to believe the opposite. I think charity can and should start anywhere. In a way, my involvement with Women for Rwanda was purely accidental. If the action project at university a year ago had been about a country in South-America, perhaps I would now be campaigning for women in Peru or Bolivia.

I also believe that volunteering grows on you. I believe that the more you do it the more you will want to do it. Give volunteering a go!

Happy International Volunteer Day everyone!


By: Mari Hoikkala

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 5th, 2012 at 10:27 am and is filed under about cross-culture, cross-cultural communication, cross-cultural differences, cultural diversity, cultural intelligence, days of significance, General, other interesting stuff . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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