Saturday, July 13, 2013

Rethinking volunteerism

I think it was 2009 when I dove head on to a life that was primarily consumed by volunteer work. I started a children’s organization, Isang Bata, because I needed to channel negative emotions into something constructive and positive, and also because I wanted to help children, seeing how my own son was growing up. There were numerous projects under Isang Bata, including partnerships with various individuals and institutions. The most recent happened only last month.

I volunteered my time, ideas, strength, resources and skills for at least six other organizations, but the ones that presently ask a lot from me are my BOD responsibilities in my son’s school and my Executive Committee duties for the Freelance Writers’ Guild of the Philippines (FWGP), which I also founded a couple of years ago. I also recently took on a magazine editing job, gratis et labore, for my favorite doctor, not knowing that, although I truly love him as a doctor and friend, he’d be such a nightmare to work with.

As I have been doing this for more than four years, which is no joke considering that perhaps half (or even more) of my working hours is spent on volunteer work, I know that this is not a good place to go if one is merely looking for fulfillment. Meaning, fulfillment, gratitude—these are superficial expectations, and I am sure that those who have been doing volunteer work for years will agree with me on this. Volunteer work is still work. Many times, one is weighed down by limitations and inadequacies, instead of being lifted up by the micro changes and fleeting inspiration and gratitude from beneficiaries. One faces, on a daily basis, the seemingly indestructible walls that hinder, the deeply institutionalized systems that tie our hands, and the people we cannot work with, no matter how hard we try.

I don’t need recognition, I am not even waiting for gratitude. I do my work, I walk away, and I am happy with that. Indifference and ungratefulness mean nothing to me. What frustrates me—and this is the point of this entry—is some people’s misplaced sense of entitlement. Their expectations, demands even, from volunteers like me who are spending our own money, giving them our time that should have been spent with our loved ones. And, getting mad if we are not able to give more. And, criticizing our work and our intentions. One recent and unpleasant encounter with someone I was helping (was, take note) jarred me to wakefulness and made me rethink all of this.

For now, I am taking a break. Perhaps I have done much more than I should and given more than I could. I guess it’s high time to go help someone else: me.

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