Volunteering: A path that becomes your destination

Prepared by: Marco Turbay

What is volunteering, what is its purpose, is there a return on investment or is it simply a philanthropic act? And if it is the latter, what is it done for?

I have discovered different positions and assessments of the most common responses in the accompaniment processes that I have guided in this regard in companies, foundations, formal and non-formal social organizations, and universities. There are those who do it for a tax benefit, which would not denote a genuine interest, but among them, there are organized processes while others only organize the photo when they want to take it, ensuring that the promoters go out in the center or carrying some “helpless infant”; Others do it because it denotes a bond between the team of workers and their clients in such a way that ties are formed that favor the sense of belonging of some, and the profitability that the others contribute, thus achieving their loyalty; there are also those whose interest is to create an atmosphere of relationship with the environment and the neighboring community, either for security or guarantee of permanence, in order to bring the party in peace as we say. Among these, there are those who decide to start employing the local sector and here beautiful things begin to happen: as is the case of workers who, in order to dignify the lives of their families, the sparkle that comes out of their eyes is as strong as the sun. 

There are companies that do it as a way of hiding behind their corporate social responsibility to repair the environment caused by the product they create and, somehow, create a spectrum of compensation that favors their image both for their workers, neighbors and customers; and I have also been in scenarios that are created from volunteering by those who have become aware of life and want to thank the transience of this world by giving opportunities, creating emotional ties, strengthening local networks, because they have it clear: they want to inherit to future generations solidarity as a tool for liberation. In these places of collective reaffirmation, voluntary action is a revolutionary act that stops any form that threatens life itself, inviting encounters where coexistence is mutually redefined in this small village called the world, as Arturo Escobar would say in one of his texts.

Entering into volunteer action for a specific interest or altruism does not prevent encounters from happening. You have no idea how many times I have witnessed how a volunteer action associated with a direct benefit has turned into a volunteer work of sincere commitment. Volunteering is an open encounter, free, where the assumptions or expectations of the other and the ones I carry with me about myself evaporate in the heat of the encounter; this is how volunteering is dressed in surprise and amazement, inviting us to assume life in movement and to accept that we change, just as the cells of our body do every 7 or 10 years.

Volunteering creates a special magic. Strangers can trust each other just by being there, but it is not about the two of them, but about the hope that is created in the encounter for a cause that is not theirs, but about the collective willingness to do something for those who are under the mud. This is how voluntary action refuses the determinism, exclusion and indignity in which the other lives. Voluntary action allows workers, clients and owners of the company to give each other the opportunity to recognize themselves horizontally with others who are different from them and to give each other their own history. Volunteering, if you give it the opportunity, connecting with the experience, changes your look, your perception, sensitizes your values, subtracts your willpower and multiplies your will and questions your judgments. Priorities change, they open up to the collective, the space of sharing that day, between sandwiches and other provisions becomes a fun plan to be a safe place where the experience of inner peace is contagious with the smile of the other as in turn, we see the pain and suffering, we cry, but soon we find paths of active hope that show us that we are there for a reason.

To be a volunteer is to break patterns and belief systems that are absolutely false about humanity, ourselves, neighbors, migrants, in short, others.  Being a volunteer implies becoming a volunteer. To recover the sense of the collective look, to value the company along the way, to know that you do something for the other with the excuse of serving, and by serving, the other ends up doing something for you that you will never forget. It is a world where you encounter vulnerability and need and discover your own. It is not that we must do good, it is that there is no other way to live to know that we are alive.

In volunteering you recognize the real difference between empathy and compassion. Empathy is linked to the recognition of the pain of the other, not as a victim, but as a mourner. There may have been some specific situation that has placed you in that “no place”, referring to unworthy situations that no one has to go through, but volunteers refuse to feel sorry for anyone because we know how capable each subject is to get out of it.  And that is where compassion comes in, which is the attitude of every volunteer. You don’t need to feel their pain, to put yourself in their shoes, because you understand that it hurts them, you don’t have to feel their hunger, cold or live on the street or be racialized to take on their struggle as your own and commit yourself to the person or group so that they can go through it again. He knows the reasons why the other is in that “no place”, but he knows that his encounter is to help him to get not even to your place, but to the place where he deserves and wants to be with his own effort.

Volunteering does not require economic or physical resources, but will, time no matter how much, the desire to meet, connect and be willing to learn from that other that in the same way and simultaneously to the mutual accompaniment of emotions and the desire to dream becomes achievable for both. The main barrier to volunteering is the ego itself. It will try to make us believe that others need more from us than we need from them. Those who decide to participate in voluntary actions discover this mistake at the first sincere contact.

In La Guajira there are many valuable human beings. Among them Rayza De La Hoz with her work to vindicate the historical value of the Afro-Guajira identity through an aesthetic and revolutionary look of accepting themselves, although some others deny such beauty. Or Iliana Curiel, pediatrician who has taught the world the transforming power of the encounter between ancestral knowledge and western knowledge at the service of the infants of the Wayú community, in a beautiful writing where she talks about the transition of Los Hijos del Sol, from being invisible to being invincible. Or Fabrina Acosta with Evas y Adanes and her beautiful struggle to declare a feminization denied in the bodies of men who, because they believe they are macho, lose their tears and laughter with the intensity that shows them that they are authentically alive.

If we know the reality, if we value encounters, if we want to be alive, volunteering is not an action detached from daily life. When you go out to the street and thank the person who served you by selling you a coffee or a cashier, you are doing a voluntary action; when you stop your car and allow a lady to pass by at a slow pace, even if you have a long line behind you, you are doing a voluntary action; when after finishing your work as a teacher you take time to explain a little more to that student who approached you or to listen to his or her family situation, you are doing a voluntary action. But something very powerful you need to know before you finish reading this: when you do that for them, something happens in you and that is that you can see yourself in their eyes and know that the encounter and the transformation it derives is from you. So it is possible that when you have heard that it is important to help others, what it possibly means is: help yourself by helping others. If the other can regain their smile and their ability to dream, you dignify your own smile and you will know that you are strong enough to make your dreams come true and inspire those who do not yet believe it. Volunteering is, then, an invitation to make this life immortal among those who share it.

Want to know more about volunteering? Watch this video by Bernardo Kliksberg.

Author information:

Intagram: @marquiturbay /@aprendamos.co

Email: marcoturbay@gmail.com

Phone.: 310 354 49 31

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