When you drop the “V” word around most charities, we find ourselves thrown into impassioned conversations about volunteer recruitment, volunteer training, volunteer retention, volunteer engagement, and volunteer liability. In this flurry of volunteer utilization / mobilization / optimization talk, we rarely hear the conversation turn towards personal volunteering. Beyond volunteers as tools, we’re left with the question:

what’s the role of volunteerism in the lives of NGO and CSO workers?

Let’s be honest, compassion fatigue is real and trying to be a support to others comes at a cost. Self-care matters and NGO workers are notorious for detrimentally putting their own needs last. The hours are long and inconsistent for salaried pay that doesn’t reflect the amount of time or energy invested. Many CSO employees chalk up this grey zone of over-time / not over-time to be their own form of volunteerism. To think of adding more hours and giving in another area feels exhausting, but we think it matters.

Volunteering in capacities outside of our job description is:

  • energizing as it engages a different part of our head and hearts. We get to be creative and expressive in other ways.
  • anchoring as it takes us outside of our routine and typical headspace. We love our work but the world is bigger than our job descriptions. Volunteering forces us to look up and take in the wider world around us. It would be easy to get lost in our work world, but volunteerism helps us hold steady in the wider world.
  • humanizing as it is an opportunity to engage with people and social challenges which are close to our hearts and yet not part of our workday.
  • fun as we practice being present. We can take our work hats off and simply enjoy the volunteer tasks that are right before us. Enjoyment in volunteerism matters.

In our work lives, volunteers play a vital role. In our personal lives, we are happy to volunteer. We have made volunteer commitments in two places and we’d love to tell you more about them:

LifeChurch is our home church here in Bangkok. The main campus is further out in the city and there is a smaller satellite in the downtown where we live. When we first started attending, there were almost no children. That worried us, but we are big believers in Christians being present in the life of the city. Though Sunday kids’ ministry is not our natural waters, we began to swim in them, believing that it takes young families to engage other young families. In the beginning we did kids programs in a glass-walled storage room behind the box office of an old movie theater. The church has grown, moved locations, and now we do kids programs in a meeting room or a dance recital room (the kids love the wall of mirrors). We’re part of the LifeKids team and we believe in the little humans we get to teach.

Life Raft International is a great organization working with migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees in and around Bangkok. As it’s own province, Bangkok uses detainment as a way of dealing with and deterring people from coming to the city as refugees. The Immigration Detention Centre (IDC) is a 10 minute walk from our apartment. From the comfort of our home, we saw trucks with cages on the back taking people into the IDC. The system is predatory and often those on the social fringe are subject to the greatest marginalization. This is true of urban refugees here. We began to search for a way to get involved and met the founder and director of Life Raft. Since then we’ve built up a friendship and now we weekly volunteer to go into the IDC, bringing in food and hygiene supplies, and spending time with detainees. We’ve met wonderful people committed to improving refugee lives through advocacy and community supports. The challenges faced by non-Thais in the capital is something close to our hearts and we’re grateful for the opportunity to play a small part in their lives.

Bottom line – we’re grateful for those who volunteer with us and we’re grateful for the opportunity to volunteer. What role does volunteerism play in your life?


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