Why volunteering will make your life better
My name is Carina, I am a social and cultural anthropologist and I grew up in a very small town in Austria (Ried in der Riedmark, if you want to google it). I have been volunteering in the Canterbury Migrants Centre (CMC) for the last six months.
I know that my experience in New Zealand may differ a lot from the stories usually found on this page. I didn’t come to New Zealand to settle down on a long term or even forever – my intention was to “feel” how it is to live in another country, within different social and cultural contexts.
The six months I have spent in this country wouldn’t have been the same without volunteering at the CMC. This “cooperation” has been the basis for a lot of crucial experiences in New Zealand. I realized how important it is to incorporate voluntary work in your daily life – especially if you are new in a city (or even a country). I have learned so many things during this time – about New Zealand and myself – and my purpose is to entrust you to start doing a volunteer service, because it will definitely make your life a little better.
A new feeling of satisfaction
Since the moment I arrived in New Zealand I have met many people volunteering: in theatres, museums, at events or in libraries. I was overwhelmed by the willingness of the people in this country to volunteer! But since I started myself, I understood why people like it.
If you decide to work as a volunteer, you will most probably choose an institution that is in line with your own interests and values. You will likely choose a topic that arouses your enthusiasm. Let’s be clear: Since salary is not a criterion, everything you do as a volunteer is based on your own convincement. You will not get financial, material benefit for your effort – but the benefit you’ll receive is even more worthwhile. It is a very special kind of satisfaction that you will be able to experience. Working for the community will make you feel good. Moreover, you might become clearer about your own interests and values, you will get new skills and of course (which is the most important thing in my opinion) you will meet other people who will make your volunteering experience very special.
The connection to other people
I remember a situation some weeks ago: My partner Pedro and I visited Oamaru. We entered a Gallery and met a lovely older lady, Rae. She was sitting in the foyer, wearing a big brooch with the letters “Volunteer” on it. She looked at us, smiled and started talking to us. She asked us about our home countries and we ended up chatting about half an hour with her! She told us some very touching stories from her family and ancestors that had come to New Zealand decades ago. We got so many new perspectives on different issues. Thanks to Rae’s voluntary work, Oamaru is now more than a city in the south of New Zealand for us – it is connected to a “face” and a person’s history. We felt connected to the country itself through one of its lovely citizens.
Even though I wasn't the volunteer in this situation, I think it clearly shows one of the most crucial aspects when doing a volunteer service: You deeply connect to other people. I think especially when you are new to a city or a country, volunteering is a great opportunity to meet new friends easily and get integrated into local structures.
So whether you are assisting in an art gallery, a homeless shelter or supporting an animal sanctuary, you will quickly get to know a lot of new people. Just as you do, all of them carry their exciting histories and experiences. During my voluntary work in the CMC I met so many different people from all over the world and I am very grateful about it.
My main task at the CMC has been to help organizing the seminar series “Learn from What We Eat”. In monthly sessions, different migrant communities from Canterbury demonstrate how to cook a typical dish from their country. In our first session in November, participants from more than 15 different countries were attending. It was amazing! Imagine travelling around the world without even leaving the room. People from almost every continent sat together at the table, chatting about food. This experience made me realise even more that we all are connected to each other and that we have so many things in common, although everyone of us is unique in his or her personal history, culture and social context. It underlines the national and cultural diversity of New Zealand, which is in my opinion one of the most beautiful aspects of the country.
Support what is important to you
As I said at the beginning, my stay in New Zealand was only temporary and my story may differ quite a bit from what we usually read here in the newspaper. However, to me it was a very impressive experience and volunteering helped me to make it easier to connect to the country and its habitants.
I know that work, family duties or other obligations do not always leave enough time and energy to go out and do something for the community. Still, I would like to encourage you to get active, volunteer and support institutions that are of importance to you – maybe only once a month. It is such a simple but though effective way to make our life and the lives of others a little bit better.
After all, I would like to thank all of the people who made this experience possible. Thank you for talking, laughing, discussing and creating so much during the last months. Besides souvenirs, my luggage is filled with memories, stories and impressions I will never ever forget.
- Volunteering Canterbury matches volunteers looking for volunteering roles with organisations looking for specific skills, and offers free to low-cost training for volunteers.
- Volunteering New Zealand
- St John South Island Region
- NZ Blood
- Christchurch City Mission
- Ronald McDonald House
- Orana Wildlife Park
- The Student Volunteer Army
- The Salvation Army
- New Zealand Red Cross
- Christchurch Women's Refuge