Tag Archives: volunteering

the fun in social justice

i commit to writing a blog post exploring the fun in social justice.

once again, northern voice, vancouver’s annual blogging and social media conference, was a lot of fun. two inspiring sessions were about making a difference in the world: one about doing good by darren barefoot, and another about social media and social justice by ajay masala puri and jeremy osborn. the one about social justice, which took place outside in the grass on a beautiful sunny afternoon, challenged all participants to commit to doing one thing towards social justice.

social justice plays a relatively large part in my life – among other things, it’s one of the categories here on this blog. also, right now i work for an organization that is entirely dedicated to social justice, the mennonite central committee. as i was thinking about a possible commitment it occurred to me that while i do dedicate a good of amount of my time and some of my money to social justice, there are moments when the term seems a bit heavy, maybe a little too serious. that’s how i came up with the commitment of looking at the fun side of social justice. fun is important for me; fun sustains me. it makes sense, then, to invest something in the fun side of this – it’ll keep my interest in social justice going! so here are a few thoughts on the fun part of social justice.

each and every organization committed to social justice started out as a volunteer project, and i know of no social justice organization that doesn’t still rely heavily on volunteers. the cool thing about volunteering is that it can be tons of fun. who wouldn’t want to volunteer for the vancouver laughter mission society? how about collecting kids’ artwork for the canadian flowers for food society? one of the volunteer jobs i had a lot of fun with was organizing a fancy english afternoon tea party in the middle of the drug-infested downtown eastside to help collect money for bus fare for people who couldn’t afford it to go to doctors’ appointments, job interviews, etc. volunteering can give you a carte blanche – whatever you want to do, you can probably find a non-profit organization who will want to engage your services for it.

people engaged in social justice are often leading-edgers, pioneers. i think that’s why social justice and social media go so well together – they both tend to attract those of us who will never be happy unless we’re standing right at the cliff, looking at new possibilities, new landscapes. there’s such an excitement that comes with trying out something that no-one has ever done before (one reason why raul and i are so into mental health camp).

super cool people
and the people you meet! fascinating! one of my co-workers has assisted first nations people for decades – but he also has an awesome bluegrass band. another one of my coworkers, who is incapable of going through a week at work without coming up with at least one completely novel way to help our clients, has worked with the amish, busted his chops as a waiter in japan, and researched thai monks somewhere in a remote forest. granted, you can meet interesting people anywhere, but i don’t know of any other sector where the company of stimulating people is so easy to come by as in social justice circles.

community building
“it’s fun, you walk up and down the street and you know everybody. you sit and chat with people and you hang out,” says my friend micha, who works with a group that does neighbourhood-based restorative justice. of course there’s many ways of building community but again, people who feel passionate about striving for a common, elusive goal such as social justice – they just build a special kind of community.

where have you found fun in social justice?

blogathon: volunteering

this post about volunteering is an entry for my participation in the 2008 blogathon, a 24-hour marathon of blogging. please support the cause and donate – however much, however little – to the canadian mental health association (vancouver/burnaby branch). to donate, email me canadian mental health associationor use this URL: www.canadahelps.org/CharityProfilePage.aspx?CharityID=d2252. you should be able to get there by clicking the link; if not, just copy and paste the link into your browser. it will take you to the appropriate location at canada helps.

thank you for visiting, reading, commenting and, if you can, donating!

merrill, the president of our board of directors at the CMHA, made a comment a little while ago about volunteering.

when i lived in germany, the UK and south america, i didn’t have much of a sense of volunteering. it’s just not as important as here. on the other hand, in north america, the non-profit sector, which rests mostly on volunteering, is one of the top ten biggest sectors.

this changed dramatically once i came to canada and particularly when i came to vancouver. i’ve volunteered for the carnegie centre, for an extended care society, for a large internet support group, etc. i also had the great joy of hiring and co-ordinating volunteers, and co-ordinated a participatory action research project on volunteering in the downtown eastside.

the latter was quite fascinating. here are some of the findings:

what motivates persons on low income to volunteer? clearly, the most frequent answer to this was straight forward: a desire to help. that this is tied in to volunteers’ self worth is very likely. directly, this is shown by the high frequency of the theme of self esteem/self worth in one round of interviews (“makes me feel good about myself”). indirectly, the surprisingly high number of responses to the question “what would it take for you to volunteer?” that indicated that prospective volunteers would simply like to be asked to volunteer points into the same direction – they want to feel needed and worthy of contributing. when volunteers are concerned about feeling equal to staff, we are confronted with the same issue: that volunteers want to see evidence that they are seen as human beings, equal to anyone else in worth and value, regardless of their socio-economic status, education, ethnic background, or any such characteristics. a further corroborating fact is that volunteers are seeking ongoing validation much more than formal appreciation.

two other important factors in terms of motivation were: to make a connection with the community at large, and to form personal relationships. this makes sense in light of the fact that the population in the area is relatively transient and that there is a very high percentage of single persons in the area. for many single persons, the community can become similar to a family. this community/family aspect of volunteering also came up with modest frequency when prospective volunteers were interviewed. in the advisory group discussions, the social aspect of volunteering was also mentioned.

taken together, the volunteer motivators of wanting to help, wanting to feel worthy, wanting to be part of the community and wanting to form relationships all point into one direction: the “people” or interactional aspect of volunteering is of tantamount importance, overshadowing by far all other reasons for volunteering.

here is the full report on volunteering in vancouver’s downtown eastside.