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What does volunteering mean to you?

By: Jessy Susan Jasmin Edwards, Greenheart Career Advancment Program Ambassador Scholar

My grandmother always told me that a society could be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable members, that a group is only as strong as its weakest member. When I think about what volunteering means to me, I come back to my grandmother’s words.

To me, volunteering is about sharing resources throughout a society so we can all have a fair chance. I While there are many ways to give back to your community, I love tutoring, mentoring and helping others by sharing my skills, knowledge, and contacts.

I’ve been privileged enough to have grown up in a place that is peaceful. I’ve been privileged enough to not just finish school, but to go on to do undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, so being able to share my knowledge and my time to help others is such a joy.

And when I talk about sharing, I believe that goes both ways in volunteering. There is no doubt that volunteers gain at least as much from those they help as they give.

From tutoring refugee children in my hometown of Wellington, New Zealand, I learned about the difficult and often painful journeys that these kids had taken in their young lives.

Many of the refugees in my tutor group were from Somalia, Eritrea, and Iraq. By spending time with them, teaching English and helping with homework, I learned just how much parents were chancing to give their children a better life. I learned about the conflicts in these countries from the perspective of the families forced to run, and I learned just how brave these children were. This experience has given me a basis to advocate for refugees with insight and compassion.

Now more than ever, and as a journalist, I’m seeing how important community is in a society fractured by politics, inequality, and globalization. Volunteering is as much about getting to know each other and connecting as it is about giving.

When we get up at 5 a.m. on a Saturday after a long week to give our time to a run for breast cancer survivors and sufferers, we’re creating a community that says, “We care about each other, we care about the collective as much as the individual.” And when we go out to plant tussocks on a beach that is eroding, without any thanks, we’re saying, “We care about our planet and the people who are here to enjoy it, whether we know them or not.”

Volunteering, to me, is helping others, but it’s also connecting with our communities, learning from each other and making ourselves – as a collective – stronger, happier, and healthier.

Ready to find your home away from home? See how you can become a J-1 Intern or J-1 Trainee with Greenheart Exchange!