Diary of a Volunteer

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Diary of a Volunteer

By: Francisco Gallegos | Volunteer and Service Learning Assistant
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I still remember the first time that Ivolunteered; I was just a kid. I remember going to a shelter for seniors and I can still picture the face of the first old man that I talked to, and I even remember some of the stories he shared with me. I went back home that day and I was really proud of myself. I felt that I did something good for someone that needed my help and at the same time I felt that I was learning how to be a better person.

During the rest of my high school years I was able to volunteer for different causes. I volunteered in a warehouse that distributed donations from the developed world to developing nations. I worked as a mentor, teaching kids about environmental issues. I even volunteered as a Spanish teacher after school. Unfortunately, when I started going to university I thought that I would not have enough time to volunteer due to the amount of work that I had to get done during the week. I also had tuition fees to pay every semester and any free time for volunteering was instead spent as a dishwasher, house painter, or student patroller.

Suddenly again I was given a chance to really understand the importance of volunteerism when I started working for Volunteer Services at SFU. Although I had lots of volunteer experience, it was not until now that I realized how important it is to volunteer strategically – not only to feel good about myself, but also to gain invaluable experience that I will be able to apply in the future. This diary will help take me through the process of finding a meaningful position and allow me to share it with other students who are interested in embarking in a similarly rewarding experience.

The first step I took in pursuing a targeted volunteer position was to identify the main reasons for me to set out on this experience. It really does not matter whether the reason is academic, professional, or personal; what matters is that it should be clear and attainable. In my case the reason is both personal and professional. Since I finished high school I realized that one of my dreams would be to work in development projects for developing countries like my own, Ecuador. In order to achieve this, I have taken courses that have provided the basic knowledge and theory about the subject. However, I realized that it is extremely important to step out of the classroom and start applying what I learned to concrete projects that deal with real people and not just printed words. The main reason for my volunteer search is to be able to apply my knowledge and build up practical skills while helping communities develop economically, politically and socially.

The next step, although closely related to the first one, was to find out which causes motivate me to work as a volunteer. This enthusiasm is that extra fuel that will keep me focused. Growing up in one of the poorest nations in South America, and yet one of the richest countries in terms of resources, culture, and history, made me realize how important it is to work in projects that will empower poor communities and allow them to improve their lives, without the paternalistic approach of the last few decades. This passion will make it easier for me to stay committed, while also driving other people to get involved.

Once I knew what I wanted and why I wanted to do it, I needed to know if there was something I could offer. I sat down and I wrote a list of the skills that I have and that can I contribute with. I found this exercise a bit complicated, but at the end I was able to list down all the things that I could offer to a position in terms of skills and experience. As mentioned above, I had the knowledge from my courses in economical and social development, the skills from previous volunteer and paid positions like community advisor and research assistant, and the commitment from the goals I set when I left my country. After this exercise, I knew what I could offer and how these qualities will make me a strong volunteer candidate.

The last and equally important step was to determine the specific skills or abilities that I wanted to learn or improve with my volunteer position. In my case, I wanted to improve my leadership and organizational aptitudes, as well as my marketing and computer design skills. Based on this, I had a clear idea of the responsibilities and challenges that I was looking for in a volunteer position.

I found that these self-reflection exercises were very helpful in the search for a targeted volunteer opportunity because they helped me narrow down my search of an internationally-focused organization where I could contribute with my knowledge and experience in economic development and research, while also learning some technical skills and improving my leadership role.

If you are thinking about finding a targeted volunteer position go ahead and:

Find what you want. Find what your passion is.
Find what you have to offer. Find where you can do it.

Posted on January 12, 2011