Mercury Talking Point – Opinion Piece

We need all kinds of volunteers, not just those who fit an image.

THOSE who volunteer will know that at times volunteering can feel like an emotional rollercoaster.

There will be days where it feels like we’re having an impact, and other days when it feels like we’re not.

Days where it feels like our attempts to make a difference are only just touching the edges of an issue that feels so large that perhaps we question why we even try.

It might be the Landcare volunteer helping to manage the seemingly never-ending weeds and plastic showing up along their coastlines.

Or the volunteers packing food and supplies for an increasing number of people in need through local organisations like Foodbank or SecondBite.

It may even be the volunteers from the surf life saving clubs dotted across our island, who every year rise to the challenge of finding enough volunteers to patrol our beaches.

Each and every one will have experienced a moment of feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of what they’re trying to do. This is particularly true for those who may not be volunteering as often as they would like, and feeling that their contribution is too small to make a difference.

Some may no longer be volunteering because they felt that giving one hour a week, a few hours each month or one day year wasn’t enough to make a difference.

But they are, and I want to remind people that the value of their volunteering is not measured through the number of hours that they give, but by the impact of what they’re doing.

There is a beautiful saying by Desmond Tutu: “Do a little bit of good where you are. It is those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

These words are so true for our volunteers across Tasmania.

An hour a week is all it takes to help someone learn to read, or a couple of hours a month might be the highlight for an older person living in a retirement village.

One evening a year is all that is needed to help out at a trivia night for your local school, or one day to chip in at the annual community clean-up. There are also those in our community where time isn’t an issue, but they aren’t volunteering because perhaps they feel that they don’t fit the image of who they think is a volunteer.

Yet the diversity of volunteering roles across our island are equally matched by the diversity of the people who volunteer in them.

They are old, young and living in the city and in homes surrounded by paddocks.

They have university degrees, TAFE qualifications and some never finished school.

Some are transitioning out of the workplace into retirement and others are volunteering whilst they seek to enter it.

There’s also a bunch who see themselves as different.

This may be because they speak with an accent, need assistance to walk, talk or hear, have different skin colours or perhaps even a past that they think others may consider chequered.

They’re all volunteers and this year, in the spirit of this week’s National Volunteer Week theme, “Give a Little, Change a Lot”, I want to remind every volunteer that their contribution is significant, particularly those who feel that it may not be.

It is, and please keep going because every bit of good happening across Tasmania is estimated to be worth at least $4.9 billion each year, and every single volunteer is contributing to this extraordinary figure.

It doesn’t matter if you’re volunteering once a week, once a month or once a year and it doesn’t matter who you are or what your story is.

You’re all making a difference and for this we thank you.

And a final message to those who are no longer volunteering because they felt like they were not making a difference, and to those who are reluctant to begin because they feel like they won’t fit in.

I urge you to reconsider.

Volunteering is done by everyone for everyone, and that includes you.

Alison Lai is chief executive of Volunteering Tasmania.

Article published in The Mercury Newspaper, 22 May 2018