By CHRISTINE AMOUR-LEVAR
In a world driven by capitalistic pursuits, the need for empathy has become somewhat of a social commodity. But despite the tectonic shifts in science and technology, there can never be a substitute for being a beacon of hope and support for those in need. Money helps to ensure that basic needs are met, but when you give your time to someone in need, you’re giving a part of yourself—that’s where the real magic happens.
Volunteering is described by the Cambridge dictionary as “offering to do something that you do not have to do, often without having been asked to do it and/or without expecting payment.” It is something we do with intrinsic motivation often driven by internal rewards and because it is naturally satisfying to us.
People the world over engage in volunteerism for a great variety of reasons: To help eliminate poverty and to improve basic health and education, to tackle environmental issues, to reduce the risk of disasters, or to combat social exclusion and violent conflict. In all of these fields, volunteerism makes a specific contribution by generating well-being for people and their communities.
Volunteers are often motivated by values like those of justice, equality, and freedom. A society that supports and encourages different forms of volunteering is likely to be a society that also promotes the well-being of its citizens.
According to the United Nations, more than one billion people volunteer globally, the majority of them serving in their own countries. Many are in the forefront of efforts to improve the way they and their fellow citizens are governed and engaged. Moreover, volunteers are playing a vital role in making governments worldwide more accountable and responsive to their citizens.
Volunteerism is a basic expression of human relationships. It is about people’s need to participate in their societies and to feel that they matter to others. The ethos of volunteerism is infused with values such as solidarity, reciprocity, mutual trust, belonging, and empowerment, all of which contribute significantly to the quality of life.
Personally, volunteerism is something that has been a part of my life since childhood. Values instilled in me by my parents at an early age included: Hard work, integrity, helping others, and giving back. I grew up seeing poverty and inequality around me in the Philippines and I became aware of this at a very early age. Mom taught us that privilege comes with great responsibility, values that I strive to pass on to my own four children today.
As I progressed through life, my values were my north star. They were part of who I was, who I have become. Every step of the way, for me to be in harmony, I had to align my career and my life choices with my values and not the other way around. And finding a way to volunteer and help others was always an important part of my priorities.
Some years ago, combining my career experience in sports and international marketing, I had the chance to set up two nonprofit organizations empowering women out of Singapore, where I am based. The first is Women on a Mission, focused on helping abused women (survivors of war, domestic abuse, human trafficking, and other forms of abuse), and the other is HER Planet Earth, which aims to protect our environment but also support underprivileged women affected by climate change. Both entities fundraise by organizing challenging expeditions to off-the-beaten-track locations around the world. These expeditions are self-funded by each participant who help raise funds through their networks, friends, and contacts for our charity partners.
Indeed, since 2012 with Women on a Mission and HER Planet Earth, I have been privileged to take all female teams (over 100 women to date) to a number of far-flung locations around the world on challenging, pioneering expeditions that really push them outside of their comfort zones. These include places like the Arctic circle, Antarctica, deserts in the Middle East and Africa, mountains in the Himalayas and Mongolia, and, more recently, in remote islands in the Philippines, as well as in the biggest cave in the world found in Vietnam— and this in an effort to raise awareness and funds for worthy causes.
Setting up Women on a Mission and HER Planet Earth has given me so much fulfilment, peace, and happiness. It is as if everything that I have done in my life thus far has prepared me to do this very special thing, unique to me and fitted for my talents, which ultimately has more significance and meaning than the sum of my experiences to date .
This is why I cannot encourage and recommend volunteerism enough, because it all begins with the desire to help others.
VOLUNTEERISM AND WELL-BEING
Volunteers are more likely to develop civic skills, to attach more importance to serving the public interest as a personal life goal, and to be more politically active. Volunteering reduces stress, combats depression, keeps you mentally stimulated, and provides a sense of purpose. In going about their voluntary activities, volunteers are also cultivating an outlook that contributes to a social environment that nurtures the well-being of all and not just themselves.
A study by the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Center (NVPC) in 2013 found that a person’s perception of wellbeing is positively correlated with giving, which includes volunteering or donating. Specifically, 66 percent of givers, as compared to 45 percent of non-givers, were more likely to report they experience high levels of wellbeing. Giving may increase wellbeing as volunteers derive deep meaning from helping others, are more grateful for their own situation in life, and grow a bigger network of positive social relationships, along with a stronger sense of community.
A research in Scotland in 2018 found that volunteering benefitted the mental and physical wellbeing of volunteers, with benefits found to be more significant for older volunteers (60 years and above) who are more subject to loneliness, role identity loss that come with retirement or the loss of partner or the departure of children, and ill health.
Furthermore, volunteering can help provide people with ways out of poverty, by giving them new skills and confidence, and aid social integration. This is of particular value to those who are most excluded from the labor market, such as recent migrants or people with disabilities.
Volunteering offers an excellent way of empowering women, allowing us to show what we are capable of, while acquiring new skills and capacities. Volunteering also allows women to access sectors usually reserved to men, and to take on new roles, especially as leaders and managers in the community. Women volunteers can serve as role models and inspire others to follow in their footsteps. Ultimately, there simply is no lack of arguments for why volunteerism is so important and vital for the wellbeing of our communities.
Throughout the last few years, one of my guiding principles has been that “we rise by lifting others.” For me, empathy is at the core of good leadership. And innately in all of us, I believe there is a desire to be good, to be fully alive, and to find meaning in life. I am convinced that everyone has a distinct mission, inside him or her, which has the capacity to inspire. Self-improvement and growth come mainly from helping others because humans are neurologically wired to gain personal dividends from altruism. That is why it is so important to invest time and effort in supporting causes that have a deep personal meaning to you.
This is what will give you the greatest satisfaction in life. It won’t happen by chance. The choice to take action is only yours to make.