|I have to admit to finding Jean Anouilh's quote, 'What you get free costs too much,' a bit puzzling. I first heard this familiar saying as a pre-teen, when my father salvaged a boat off the west coast of Scotland and got nothing for it but solicitor's fees and headaches. More recently, we lost a lot of time and effort at work using a 'donated' computer that proceeded to blow up and lose its entire memory -- and, no, no one had bothered to back-up the files.
But aside from saving a quick quid when taking goods for gratis, I have a hard time reconciling the quote to my experiences. Perhaps that is because I am a volunteer, and as such I understand that people come with defective programming and preset judgements as par for the course.
Voluntary work is more than free labour. It is an individual's desire to make a difference in action. For all my moral wants and political dreams, volunteering has rewarded me with so much more than money could buy. I could wax lyrical all day about underfunded community projects in areas of economic deprivation, and while I'd mean everything I said, and felt strong emotions tying me to my views, nothing could replace doing the day-to-day mundane activity of actually helping my community at a very basic level.
2009 is the Year of the Child. I believe all children should have a childhood, and on the mean streets of my Parish, it can be all too easy to lose innocence at a very early age. One of my voluntary roles is as a Youth Leader at a local youth club. These are the kids that people cross the street to avoid, and yet I get to know them on a personal basis, and they really are just kids -- not the violent 'hoodie' gangs that the UK national press builds into monsters. Our youth club not only offers these teens an alternative to hanging around in gangs on street corners, it helps them have fun and stay kids longer, builds self-esteem and fosters dreams and ambitions. One other great side effect of raising up someone's expectations, is that it's contagious. The youth club kids care about their community because they feel a part of it.
And as for the groups which benefit from voluntary workers? It's doubtful they could be as effective as they are without a wageless staff to support them. Our youth club is Parish supported via the local church, but it is staffed entirely by congregational members and local mothers and fathers who have all gone through free Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks and basic children's worker training, courtesy of the Diocese. In some cases mums and dads have received recognised qualifications through an awarding body. Free begets free. People give up their time to support their community, freeing up wages, providing a service, and allowing precious funding to be spent on the projects themselves. With so much money saved, it is easier to secure funding to offer support to volunteers in other ways, such as expenses and relevant accredited training.
Giving your time and skills for free is more beneficial than receiving something better than up-to-date training and a well rounded Curriculum Vitae; it reminds us that communal living has people at its core.
In times like these, where it's so easy to see the worst in everyone, and every situation, voluntary action can bring about real results for positive change. And that's priceless.