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Can I Be a Volunteer?

Volunteer (v.) - “To choose to act in recognition of a need, with an attitude of social responsibility and without concern for monetary profit, going beyond one's basic obligations” (Susan J. Ellis and Katherine H. Campbell, By the People: A History of Americans as Volunteers).

Picture: Wix Free Photos

Volunteering may not always be high on people’s agendas. Other priorities, work commitments, personal interests, and the need to simply ‘unwind’ during free time often take precedence. Even though most people would agree that volunteering is important, and is something to be admired, it isn’t a regular pastime.

But what if I were to tell you that volunteering isn’t just another obligation or a thankless chore, but rather increases your time, gives you more energy, and could be a critical part of your life?

Being in scenarios, however small, that require a person to be selfless -- to think about the needs of others -- can end up giving a person a greater sense of purpose and self-worth. Think about it. If you know that you are doing something that helps someone else, doesn’t that put a smile on your face, and doesn’t that end up making you feel better about yourself? Volunteering is a mutually beneficial practice, and creates a virtuous circle.

I recently met a friend here in Berlin who works for Caritas International, at the Landesamt für Gesundheit und Soziales (LaGeSo). LaGeSo is the initial entry point in Berlin for refugees seeking asylum. Since LaGeSo is busy working to process thousands of applications, they are too overstretched to provide additional services for refugees. That is where “Moabit Hilft” and Caritas International are able to provide support, by supplying food, shelter, childcare, and medical aid to those waiting to be registered. These two organizations operate almost entirely through the help of volunteers.

The system, then, that first welcomes refugees in Berlin relies heavily on those who are not required by their jobs to perform, but rather, are there because they see it as their social responsibility to help.

After hearing this, though, why should you honestly feel compelled to take part, and be a volunteer, when the refugee crisis, or the needs of any others, seem far removed from you own? Within the first few minutes of visiting my friend at work, a man approached her and shared the news that he received a fixed spot in a refugee shelter. “You gave me hope,” he unabashedly shared. The truth is that when you commit some time to working with others, hearing their stories, and trying to help -- through work or as a volunteer -- these people become real to you. They matter.

While the point of volunteering is to help others, “to act in recognition of a need,” we should remember that by putting others’ needs as a top value, we are blessing our ​own lives, enriching our own experiences, and expanding our understanding of who we are, and how we can contribute to the world around us.

So, I’ll leave you now with this idea – just imagine what you as a volunteer can do.

Amy Baldauf is part of our International Blogger Team. She is based in Berlin and the United States, and is an active supporter of volunteerism.

Check out Humans of LaGeSo, a visual storytelling ‘work in progress’, to learn more about the people waiting in line at LaGeSo:

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