Some years ago I was at a seminar on volunteering and the speaker made a statement I have never forgotten: “If every volunteer in the country went on strike, everything would collapse – hospitals, schools, libraries, charities…”
I myself have benefitted from the help of volunteers, when I came to England with my parents as a refugee from the Nazis and we were given, freely, everything needed for a normal life, including my education. My parents were of the view that gratitude for the shelter given to us by England and the English people was important. They wanted their four daughters to become professional women and contribute to the society that had supported them during their hardest times.
I have done my share of voluntary work over the years. Sometimes the result is immediately visible, such as a reading scheme in the local library where I heard children read and talked to them about their chosen book to increase their confidence and understanding.
Sometimes, as now in the office of Peace Direct, I cannot see the result of the work I am given. I stuff hundreds of envelopes with newsletters and appeals. My voluntary work doesn’t have a direct result on the essential conflict resolution work carried out by Peace Direct in countries far away, but I trust the staff here and feel confident that their actions – and mine – directly and indirectly can have a positive result.
People have different reasons for volunteering – they could have had help sometime during their life and want to return it to society; they could have been privileged all their lives and want to share some of their good fortune; they could be lonely and need to be in a sociable environment; they could be retired and missing work; or they could have a passion for a particular cause and want to give specific support and help to that cause. There could be personal reasons for choosing a particular charity – for example, a person with a family member suffering from a specific disability will often choose to work in that sector.
There are thousands of charities in the UK. My personal belief is that peace is the essential ingredient for a good life the world over and, in spite of increasing age, I do believe that there is hope for greater peace in the years to come.