Why Volunteering is Good for the Soul, Community, and World
Make it attractive, make it meaningful, and make it worthwhile. According to The Guardian, these are the main factors that motivate a person to volunteer. While the behavioral science behind volunteering isn’t comprehensive, there is some consensus on a few common threads:
- The experience needs to provide learning for the volunteer,
- It needs to be convenient for the volunteer,
- It needs to include a social aspect, and
- The volunteer needs to be able to see the impact they are making.
How do you feel about these factors? Do you agree? Would they motivate you to volunteer? Do you already volunteer? SGA posed these same questions to our staff in order to understand the nitty-gritty of why people volunteer. We specifically turned to a remote SGAer, Sara, who recently returned from a 2-month trip volunteering in Paraguay with Para La Tierra (For the Earth) studying howler monkey populations and conservation. Read about her journey; why she went, the difficulties she faced, and why it was all worth it!
Why was this experience attractive to you?
Other than wanting to spend two months living in the jungle, I wanted to volunteer for Para La Tierra because I am extremely passionate about wildlife conservation. I have always looked up to scientists like Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey and I’ve always wanted to be able to do what they did, as their work has had huge implications for wildlife and environmental conservation. This was the perfect opportunity for me to help make a significant contribution in the field. Knowing that my work there could truly help the conservation efforts in Paraguay was a huge motivator for me to go.
What were some of the challenges you encountered?
Although there were some barriers that could have prevented me from going and some hardships while I was in Paraguay, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I was fortunate to have.
A couple of the barriers I faced were: 1) Danger – there are many potential threats when traveling to South America as a young woman on my own, to a place where I didn’t know anyone, and had never been. 2) Time off of work – not many places will allow you to take a 2-month vacation! Luckily, I have an amazing boss and job at SGA, that understands the value in volunteering and helping the environment.
A few of the hardships I encountered were: 1) Getting lost – one day I ended up lost in the forest by myself with a dying GPS, surrounded by swamps that I could not cross. Luckily, I made it out, no thanks to my poor sense of direction! 2) Hunger – where we were staying, we had to cook and carry all of our food with us for the entire time we were there. This meant we had to be very conservative with what we ate.
How was this experience meaningful to you?
I believe that giving to organizations whose work you are passionate about is important – whether it is through time or money. There are so many organizations that carry out meaningful work; I wanted to be able to contribute to this.
Some of the best parts of volunteering were: 1) Living in nature – it was a healing, restorative experience to be totally immersed in a natural environment. Most of the time, we lived a simple lifestyle, with little access to Wi-Fi or technology. 2) The friendships I cultivated – spending 24 hours a day around the same people, we all got to know each other very well, very fast. I got to work with people who shared the same love and passion for the environment and wildlife as me. 3) Experiencing a different culture – Paraguayan and South American culture is very different from the lifestyle we live in the United States. It was humbling to live there and has helped me to live more sustainably.
This experience was incredibly difficult much of the time, but it changed my life in many ways. I feel that what I was doing made an impact. Additionally, the whole experience helped me to grow as a person and I feel extremely accomplished in having completed this endeavor. I feel like if I could do this, I could do almost anything!
While Sara’s experience didn’t hit all four common threads, we did learn (in Sara’s case at least) that sometimes volunteering doesn’t need to be convenient if the motivators outweigh the barriers. Our desire to make a positive impact on the world, in an area we sincerely care about, can be enough! The overall takeaway here is that people volunteer for causes they are passionate about, when they can see themselves truly making a difference, and when the experience is fun! So what are you waiting for? Volunteer today and make a difference!