Volunteering: An Alternative Perspective to “Free Labour”

Recently, at a coffee shop, my colleague and I talked about what we were currently doing with our lives since graduation. My colleague has been working, but does not particularly enjoy the field that she is currently in. I suggested that she try volunteering in order to broaden her horizons. In return, I received the following response:

“I didn’t study four years for free labour.”

The response left me temporarily dumbfounded, but then I realized that it was not the first time I have heard it. It is very understandable, actually. As fresh graduates, we all want to land our first full time job so that we can focus on saving up for the future. Instead of depending on our families, it is time that we make money ourselves. Although it may not seem apparent, volunteering can provide this fulfillment and bring us happy memories, including ones of the genuine smiles and cheer of those whose lives are being touched.

Volunteering should not be seen as merely “free labour”, but a rich experience that brings people together. We do not have to dedicate our entire lives to it, but we can set aside a few hours a week to take a breather from work life and enter the realm of volunteering. Below, I will share some of my thoughts and experiences from my personal volunteering experiences.

During my four years in high school, I volunteered at a local Cantonese Saturday School. Since my Cantonese was not particularly strong, I thought that I could at least learn something while getting my community service hours. My first year was terrifying – I did not know how to react to little kids who, similar to myself as a child, did not want to be there at all. With constant motivation from my coordinator, I began to open up and gradually, I enjoyed volunteering on Saturdays. Volunteering in Cantonese Saturday School was a sort of escape from the exams and assignments I was bombarded with.

Holland Bloorview

Artwork done by children at Holland Bloorview, during a volunteer session.

Since Cantonese Saturday School was going well, I asked to follow my dad during his volunteer shifts at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in Midtown Toronto. Before I began the position, he told me that this place was very different because all of the children had special needs. Determined to challenge myself, I decided to commit – and there I found myself working alongside my enthusiastic dad. I started out in the same position with my dad, where we implemented and participated in inclusive activities, such as baking, bowling, and playing board games with the youth. Since I thoroughly enjoyed my experience, I decided to branch out to several other activities, such as the swim school and outdoor-centered summer camp. Soon, I was graduating from high school. As a result of my volunteering experiences, I had a better idea about the career path that I would like to pursue. I knew that I wanted to be a teacher who not only teaches the curriculum, but one who actively engages and motivates children of a wide range of abilities. At my high school graduation, to my astonishment, I was commended with the Community Spirit Award. However, the award was minor in comparison to the rich impact of my volunteering experiences.

University hit and on top of the assignments, career fairs and workshops I attended, I decided to get involved on campus. While I continued to volunteer at Holland Bloorview, I also found a great organization that taught conflict resolution strategies to children in Grade 5. This particular organization was called Peace by PEACE. Through this experience, not only was I able to obtain relevant classroom experience in team-teaching exercises, I was also able to make valuable social connections. The trainers were extremely supportive and motivated me in the application process to teacher’s college. I was accepted into teacher’s college, which seemed to fly by mannligapotek.com. Before I knew it, I found myself shaking Craig Kielburger’s hand at my Bachelor of Education graduation ceremony.

Currently, I have two jobs – one as an occasional teacher and the other as a tutor. In addition to my two jobs, I volunteer at numerous elementary schools and at the weekly Sunday School at my local church. Although the experience acquired through volunteering is unpaid, it is invaluable. Each week, I go in with a fresh outlook and an open mind – ready to give my best to those who comprise our future generation. I strongly feel that if you put your heart in anything that you do, your efforts will be valued by those on the receiving end.

Volunteering before, during and after the undergraduate degree is a rewarding experience. A monetary value is unable to replace the genuine smiles and laughter exchanged between volunteers and those being impacted. Furthermore, the social networks acquired can lead to endless opportunities that may not have otherwise been possible. Most importantly, a sense of fulfillment has been achieved – one that shows how togetherness and community trumps the shortsighted perspective of volunteering as “free labour”.

Photo Credits: Good Stock Photos & Jessica Woo




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