Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Volunteering and the Simple Life

By Notes From The Frugal Trenches

Somebody recently said to me if you are going to have a simple life you need to focus on you, yourself and I, that people must learn that simplicity is about focusing only on yourself, your home and your direct family. I found this quite an interesting, if not sad, perspective, I guess because I don't equate giving of oneself as complicating my life in any way. I do find that running around shopping, errand doing or bombarding myself with media images or too much tv complicates my life immensely, but would never say that any of my volunteering roles have done anything but add another beautiful layer to my life.

As a teenager I volunteered with children in a hospital, doing admin for a new hospice which had just opened in my home town and collecting for various charities. While studying at University I volunteered in a health centre which provided medical appointments as well as health education programs, volunteered in a speech and language centre and a school, and voluntary tutored two children with learning difficulties whose parents could not afford private tuition. Since I've officially become an adult I've volunteered as a youth group leader, lead a youth group, volunteered as a cat socializer and dog walker, volunteered in a cafe whose proceeds went to charity and had various roles through Church. For over a year I cared for four children in my home while working, obviously at that time my roles needed to change so instead I was able to volunteer in their schools and collected for charities - I did this not because I had a great deal of extra time on my hands, but because I knew how rich and beautiful a life of volunteering is and I wanted the children to understand the importance of serving others and appreciating all that you do have. This wasn't learned through grand gestures, but simply every day actions like sending cards or notes, making soup for sick friends and taking food to the food bank.

It is conceivable that volunteering could add stress to your life, but I don't think you limit stress by focusing on oneself. Through my volunteering I have learned to appreciate what I have, I've been able to peek into the life experiences of someone with no vision or with no legs. I've made friends, basked in the beauty of knowing there are good people everywhere and begun to understand what simplicity truly is - it isn't shutting everyone else out, it's appreciating the richness from little.

Next week I board a plane, I'm off to volunteer overseas in an orphanage and working with special needs and dying children. People comment that I'm doing something good or mention how much they'll learn from me. The reality is, the blessings are all mine, I'm the one who needs to learn from these children what beauty, richness and simplicity is all about.

I'd love to hear from you! Do you find volunteering fits into your simple life? What have you learned about simplicity through volunteering and serving others?

For those interested, I will be blogging while I'm away!