Sunday, 25 November 2007

The Volunteer

When you’re white, middle-aged, middle-class and live in Grey Lynn and that’s most people in Grey Lynn these days you are likely to find the idea of becoming a volunteer exciting at least once in your life. Either you’ve read too many ethical living books and you feel the need to connect with your local community, or you’ve read too many Nigel Latta books and feel the need to rock up to your overworked local social workers and offer to help out.
The only problem when you’re white, middle-aged, middle class and live in Grey Lynn is that the actual act of volunteering will never be taken seriously. You see yourself rocking up exuding waves of charitable urges, dressed down in your non threatening third-best jeans, fair trade converse replica shoes and hand knitted cardie, and the thought bubble above the receptionist’s head reads loud and clear “Is SPQR closed today?” They explain to you that they would love someone to come in and patronise the needy, but sitting in on family conferences and working miracles with abused children in the window between the gym and your massage was not something volunteers were used for. You need a degree to perform miracles. Then you see the look on their face. It’s a tolerant expression which attempts to hide the sure knowledge that you will turn up enthusiastically for at least a week before the bach, that month in Europe and lunch get in the way. “Oh and by the way – we’re the charity. Not you.”
I’ve been determined to volunteer for some time now and for all the right reasons. Such as that my garden is begging me to stop weeding it obsessively five times a day, there are only so many books I can read in a week and then there is the ethical connecting with your local community thing. And apparently it’s a really good thing to do for your head, karma and sense of purpose. Over one million New Zealanders do it, so there has to be something in it, even if I think the definition of volunteer they used to get that figure included sending positive thoughts to the All Blacks.
Disturbingly some people like it too much. The Department of Corrections has recently had to address the problem of “volunteer groupies” by limiting their helpers to 20 hours a week. I guess there’s just something so damn attractive about stepping out of your white middle class life and sitting across from a really bad man covered in tattoos for half your week teaching him how to read. .
My problem, apart from the fact that I’ll get the look by the receptionist, is that I don’t know what I want to do. My husband suggested my idea of volunteering is being the one who gets the paper from the letter box in the morning. Although he did say that if there was a shortage of people to take old drunks out to lunch. I’d be in my element.
So I spent the day on the net and discovered a whole new world of opportunity. I could volunteer abroad and work with children in Ghana, Vietnam or Romania. Or I could help protect turtles in Costa Rica. The Fire Service needs people, as does the museum, and then I found the website for all volunteer hopefuls. where I found 359 possible positions in my area. The Ellerslie Flower show needs a lot of people to do some mail outs, although I’m not sure why I would volunteer for a privately owned business. Sylvia Park Mall needs Christmas gift wrappers for charity, and I could help out at indoor bowls where I would ‘mix with bowlers: chat and assist as needed and have fun. Group meets each Monday night from 7 to 8:15 pm.” Which sounds awfully like bowling.
.I quite like the idea of caring for a children’s play ground, raking leaves and such like (North Shore). And welcoming visitors in the arrivals hall of the airport would be nice, as would welcoming people at the Auckland Zoo.
And then I found it. Under the list of the type of volunteering I wanted to do I clicked on "Befriending." I’m tossing up between visiting a lady in a rest home in Epsom who is very disabled but can hold a good conversation and doesn’t have many visitors or reading a newspaper to a resident over morning tea at an Aged Care facility on week days.
My husband says he’ll be a befriender too, but we mustn’t tell our parents. They’ll get jealous.

Image by Anthony Ellison

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