By: Sarah Andrews
For the past five years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with several nonprofit organizations, including Edge of Seven, that rely on large volunteer programs to carry out their work. These have not been organizations seeking envelope stuffers (though there is nothing wrong with those that do). Rather, these organizations have volunteer programs tailored to people who are willing to get up off their swivel chair, roll up their sleeves, and get personal with the individuals they’ve signed up to help.
There are a lot of nonprofit organizations, foundations, and social enterprise companies out there doing amazing things to create progress in our world by providing much needed funding, technology or advocacy at a high level. There are a lot of people who are choosing to lend their voices to causes and movements via Facebook or Twitter or some other social media channel. All of this is great; awesome even. But at the end of the day, I’ll always hold a soft spot for organizations with good old-fashioned volunteer programs that deploy people to do meaningful work everyday.
When people volunteer, they open themselves up to personal change. They say yes to opportunities that allow them to push past vague feelings of pity for those who are in less fortunate situations and into a space where they can develop true compassion for others (in my mind the opposite of pity.) By connecting with individuals they wouldn’t normally interact with, volunteers have the opportunity to pull themselves out of their comfort zones and develop a sense of humility and responsibility.
When we feel this kind of responsibility to others – a responsibility to try to make things in our communities and our world better for everyone, not just ourselves – we can start making positive changes in our own lives that spill out into the environments around us. It’s a win-win.
Volunteer travel can be a powerful tool to ignite this process self-improvement and perception shifting, and empower people to keep working for change even when their trip is over.