North Texas Daily

Truly helpful volunteering requires mindfulness, intention

Truly helpful volunteering requires mindfulness, intention

Truly helpful volunteering requires mindfulness, intention
November 18
12:00 2022

This year’s election cycle put several contentious issues on the ballot. The world is still reeling from the effects of COVID-19, abortion is no longer recognized as a human right in the United States and America’s inflation rate is four times higher than it was a year ago. There’s an overwhelming amount of social issues affecting the country today, victimizing millions of Americans.

Voting has always been advertised as a way to create change, but civic engagement doesn’t stop at the ballot. Concerned citizens can volunteer as a way to create change themselves. Volunteers must be well-intentioned,  listen respectfully and be able to utilize their skills to maximize the positive impact of their work. Otherwise, this level of civic engagement can create more harm than benefit. 

It’s easy to think of change as instant and widespread, but volunteering within a community helps create long-term, albeit small-scale, change. Community members’ actions in their neighborhoods and cities might not come with revolutionary glory, but the work is certainly more impactful.

Concerned about the growing levels of food insecurity in your city? Volunteer at a nearby food bank or even a community garden. Shiloh Community Garden in Denton, Texas, is the largest community garden in the country.

The university also provides volunteer opportunities through programs run by the school-funded Center for Leadership and Service. Just by searching your city and the social justice topic you’re interested in, you can find local organizations and initiatives to be a part of.

Like anything, intention plays a role in the quality of a person’s volunteering. Religious beliefs, passion for social justice and even external requirements to do community service motivate people to volunteer. Still, volunteering solely for material gain isn’t sincere. If the volunteer isn’t careful, they could limit their effort and cheapen the quality of work they produce. 

International volunteering, or voluntourism, is not always effective volunteering. In voluntourism, travelers come to developing countries with the intent to do short-term community work as part of their touristic activities. Voluntourists pay fees to agencies to work in orphanages, often with little qualification to be working with vulnerable children.

In reality, voluntourism agencies profit from pocketing donations and fees to create fun activities for the volunteers rather than benefiting the children themselves, according to an article by the Guardian. Often, the “orphans” have living parents, but some orphanage agencies actively collect and separate them from their families. Of the eight million children in orphanages worldwide, over 80 percent are orphans, according to a 2018 Reuters report.

Admittedly, humans aren’t purely altruistic. There’s always something to gain in anything we do, even with charity and volunteering. Some people may enjoy volunteering because it’s emotionally satisfying, but that doesn’t mean their volunteerism is inherently selfish. So long as a volunteer doesn’t center their needs and wants in their volunteerism, their intention doesn’t necessarily doom their work to have a negative impact.

Volunteers must be receptive to their community’s needs. Too often, volunteers do work that will satisfy themselves without necessarily doing what is asked of them. For example, an organization working with young children desperately needs volunteers to help put together tables to replace the run-down desks the students have been using.

A volunteer who signed up to work with the organization might have solely intended to interact with children in need and be disappointed with the needed tasks. Should the volunteer manage to get their way, they would fulfill their goals, but the organization and the children they aim to support are no better than they were before. In fact, the kids might have formed an attachment with someone they might never see again, rendering their volunteer service pointless and harmful.

Sometimes, a community in need might be better off with the help of someone with specific qualifications, and it’s the responsibility of a well-intentioned volunteer to respect their needs.

In a Vice News interview, a former voluntourist with little background in construction describes building a library in a Tanzanian orphanage. Upon realizing construction workers fixed voluntourists’ shoddy work while no one was looking, she was advised to keep silent to avoid ruining the experience for her group mates.

Her work made little impact on the community she set out to help, and her volunteerism was reduced to a tourist attraction. Ultimately, a volunteer must be mindful to minimize harm. 

Although there is no such thing as perfect intentions, if volunteers prioritize the people they set out to help over their own wants and needs, they can play a part in making the world a better place. 

Featured Illustration by Erika Sevilla

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Hana Musa

Hana Musa

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