by Cassandra Lamberti

History paints for us a delineation of the word volunteer as those who have the time and dedication. They are the noble ones who are able to do the work we wish we could but may not have the resources to do so. However, to be a volunteer, all one has to do is give up a moment of their time to support someone or something other than themselves. There is no act too small or too large when it comes to extending a hand. Taking an extra moment to keep the door open for someone or even guiding a nonlocal with directions are all actions of a volunteer. The main objective is to leave a situation better off than it was when it started. But what makes people offer their time and service with no return?

femLENS volunteer team with workshop participants and guests at a street exhibition in Gdynia, Poland 2017

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word volunteer as “a person who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task”. A lot of people could wonder, if there is nothing in it for me, then why do it, why not use my time for something that I could get paid for? Volunteering is not a forceful activity by any means, and it is based on one’s preference. When choosing what to spend their time on, people are generally driven by a passion, interest or concern.

Although volunteering doesn’t typically involve a cash payment, the return is frequently more rewarding. An advantageous fact about volunteering is that anyone can do it. It is tremendously convenient that in the digital age, volunteering can occur anywhere. If you have a cause you are passionate about but due to disability or lack of transportation are not able to physically be there, organisations more than likely have webinars you can attend or tasks that can be done online and by phone.

There are also many emotional benefits that come from volunteering. When opening your mind and gaining a new perspective, you are making yourself available to cultivate new social and relationship skills. Building bonds with others and hearing their stories can change your viewpoint on everyday life. These are people whom you might not have met if not for joining a mutual community. People that volunteer discover different skills that they might never have been able to practise. This can lead to bettering one’s self for future career goals. You are able to guide situations differently when in an improved headspace. For instance, people will react very differently to overcoming an obstacle when they have a paycheque on the line rather than not.  A study done by Carnegie Mellon University shows that adults over 50 who had volunteered on a regular basis were less likely to develop high blood pressure than those who had not volunteered. With lower blood pressure comes less stress, which can avert depression.

Past volunteers present femLENS work at a startup event in Gdansk, Poland 2018

French writer, existentialist philosopher, and political activist Simone de Beauvoir believed that “[o]ne’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others”. When you take a moment to examine Simone’s words, it may feel like you are being absorbed back into the perspective that this earth is shared. The planet does not belong to anyone. Everyone that inhabits the earth has a responsibility to care for its nature, animals and all other beings who live on it.

Volunteers are those who see beyond the present. They are individuals with the hope that their involvement in the now will create a better future. The notion that we are not promised a tomorrow and people still make the choice to spend their time benefiting others simply validates that we are all a part of the same community, regardless of our age, race and location.

femLENS workshop participants play with their phone cameras during a workshop in Narva, Estonia 2020