06 Dec The true value of volunteers
Johannesburg, 05 December 2022: Lilima is a siSwati word which refers to a group of people coming together to help one another till their fields or similar work around the community. The idea is that there is strength in numbers and when you come together you lighten the load and suddenly the impossible seems possible. For Dr Jerry Gule, The Love Trust Chairman, International Volunteer’s Day, celebrated annually on the 5th of December is a reminder that together in collaboration, there is more that can be achieved. We are all connected, regardless of where we come from, and we are reliant on each other. For Dr Gule, the COVID pandemic showed in many ways that the world is intertwined, and the spirit of International Volunteer’s Day, is really about bringing humanity together to support one another.
How International Volunteer Day resonates with The Love Trust
The sentiment lies at the very core of The Love Trust as Dr Gule explains that the ethos behind The Love Trust is based on volunteerism. Without people volunteering to participate in and support our activities we wouldn’t be able to make a difference in our school, communities, and the country at large. The Love Trust’s tagline echoes this: together, we change a child’s life. It’s the effort of complete strangers, who for the sake of someone else come together, in this case children, to say, “How do we make a difference in the lives of these children?”
How volunteering impacts the social and economic development of South Africa
If you look at the needs of South Africa and across the continent of Africa, the needs are so mammoth that the state, the private sector, and communities themselves are overwhelmed. Without volunteers and the support of donors and partners, certain sections of our country and economy would collapse. Volunteerism has a direct impact on the social and economic development of our country. We cannot afford to lose the people that support these organisations through their giving, their generosity in terms of their time and their skills.
The impact of COVID is still felt today as many good NGOs, had to close. For Dr Gule, even one less volunteer in the world for one day has a huge ripple effect and it’s why he feels so passionately about encouraging people to volunteer; to give of themselves without expecting anything in return. Because that’s how we uplift a community and how we strengthen our bonds as fellow citizens and as a nation.
Common misconceptions about volunteering
The role of a volunteer seems almost futile to many, as the common misconception is that people don’t believe they’ll be able to make a difference. Dr Gule wants to assure them that anyone, regardless of skills, education, and wealth can help. You just need to take the opportunity to be a role model to a young person, by simply being available.
People also often believe they don’t have to volunteer because someone else will, but every bit of support helps. Your personal experiences, skillsets, knowledge, or just even your time (no skills or expertise needed) could be of immense value to organisations low on resources.
Another misconception is that when calling for volunteers, organisations actually want your money. Yes, there may be minor expenses involved such as transport costs but often volunteering is just about giving a bit of your time. For vulnerable children in poor communities that could mean the world. By simply taking the time to show that you care, you give confidence to a young person who may be hopeless. You can open their eyes to something completely new; thereby opening a world of possibilities.
Safety is also a major concern for people considering volunteering, fuelled by truth and inflamed by prejudices. Dr Gule believes that simple precautions can be taken to lower the risk of exposure to criminal activity. He also points out that the communities embrace volunteers as part of their own and make the effort to impart knowledge and advice to help protect volunteers and steer them away from dangerous situations.
Paying it forward
Dr Gule also believes that generosity begets generosity and uses his own personal experience as an example. While he was in middle school Dr Gule was suddenly in need of accommodation, the relative he had been staying with, in a forestry compound in the Western part of Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland), couldn’t accommodate him anymore. A complete stranger, aware of his circumstances and love for school, told Dr Gule that he could stay with him in his home so that he could be closer to school. According to Dr Gule, that gentleman contributed to who he is today.
What NGOs and NPOs look for in volunteers
There must be synergy between what their values are (what drives them and shapes their lives) and those of the NGO or NPO. It’s also important to be as transparent as possible. Let them know exactly who you are and why you need them. This will become their baby, not just yours, as they are investing themselves in this endeavour. If the NGO and NPO work with children for example there are naturally a host of other vetting criteria involved to ensure the safety of the children. Dr Gule points out that you’d want these volunteers to be ambassadors for your organisation as well.
Why people volunteer
Dr Gule believes there are various reasons. Some may volunteer because somebody helped them; sometimes they volunteer because the call for volunteers is so persuasive, that they look inside, and realise “I need to do something else”.
There are also many personal benefits to volunteering. When you do things for other people, you rediscover your own self-worth and bolster your self-esteem. You develop new skills, broaden your understanding and gain experience every time you say, “I didn’t know I can do that”. Volunteering also inspires people with a great sense of purpose; that they’re a part of something bigger and that they’re leaving a legacy behind.
Celebrating our volunteers at The Love Trust
International Volunteer Day is a great opportunity to thank all our volunteers for their time, effort and care that they’ve contributed. Your on-going support leaves a lasting impact on the lives of our learners.