‘Founded on the values of solidarity and mutual trust, volunteerism transcends all cultural, linguistic and geographic boundaries. By giving their time and skills without expectation of material reward, volunteers themselves are uplifted by a singular sense of purpose.’
So said Ban Ki-moon in his 2012 message for the International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development, which is observed on 5 December each year and was designated by the United Nations in 1985. The aim of the day is to celebrate the power and potential of volunteering; to raise awareness of what volunteers do and recognise their contribution to society.
According to the United Nations Volunteers’ (UNV) State of the World’s Volunteerism Report 2015, because there has been limited measurement of formal (never mind informal) volunteering, the number of people involved are essentially undocumented. However, it is believed that this number may well exceed one billion globally. Volunteers can be found in all cultures across the world. Their work covers an immense range of activities done by a hugely variable cohort of people, each with their own reasons for wanting to get involved.
People volunteer their skills and their time because they have a desire to help others, to make a difference, to make things better in the world. The great thing about volunteering is that not only are you helping others, but you are gaining so much too.
I volunteer at my local hospice, St Christopher’s in Sydenham, which was founded in 1967 by Dame Cicely Saunders, whose work is considered to be the basis of modern hospice philosophy. St Christopher’s has 530 members of staff and 1,200 volunteers and in 2016 it cared for over 6,000 patients, both in the hospice and at home. I volunteer on one of the inpatient wards, where my role includes helping patients select something for lunch which they will find appetising and enjoyable, assisting them (if needed) to eat their lunch, chatting to them about any concerns they might have, listening to their stories, reading to them, giving hand massages and generally doing anything to help that might make their day a bit better. Every week, when I go home, I feel inspired by the people I have met. Every patient I have met has told me what a difference the hospice has made to them and to their families. They are treated with dignity, kindness and receive holistic care where their spiritual and psychological wellbeing are considered just as important as their physical wellbeing. Dame Cicely said, ‘You matter because you are you and you matter until the last moment of your life.’ Those words are at the centre of all that the hospice does.
International Volunteer Day’s theme for 2017 is Volunteers Act First. Here. Everywhere. The UNV is recognising the contributions of volunteers who are present, who are all around us, who are answering calls in times of need, who are helping save lives today, and supporting those who want to continue living their lives with dignity tomorrow. This is exactly what we are doing at St Christopher’s and I am proud to be part of such a great team.
Do you volunteer? If so, comment below - I'd love to hear all about it.