Saturday, October 9, 2010

Rambling reminiscing on a rainy afternoon

Rambling reminiscing on a rainy afternoon

Sometimes I am genuinely intrigued about what motivates us. About why we do what we do. I cant say that growing up I dreamt of working in volunteer management. One reason is of course that I had never heard of Volunteer Management.

Words. Words intrigue me too. In Volunteerism we have a lot of debates about words.

How many people out there are volunteers and don’t know it? Are Volunteer managers and don’t know it. Or managers of volunteers :-)

I remember years ago a person correcting me when I described them as a volunteer. “Oh no my dear, I am a member of the Auxiliary – I am not a volunteer’! In the last Australian census there was a question asking if people volunteered.

How many people would have said no to that and yet were board members with community organisations or involved with their kids sports by running the shop or washing the kits or driving the bus etc.

I volunteered for years in Ireland but never considered myself “a volunteer”. Sounds strange. If so step back from your familiar world of volunteerism for a moment and consider how then I simply saw myself as being a member of The Social Action Group, the organisation I was effectively volunteering for.

Many of us raised money for many causes, helped build houses for the elderly and cut peat for fuel for the disadvantaged in our communities. I smile when I reminisce on that now. Cutting and spreading peat (or turf as we call it in Ireland) has got to be one of the most unusual volunteering activities.

We would spend the day in the beautiful ragged countryside in "the bog" as it was known ( toilet humour folks – be quiet!) Some volunteers would cut the turf with an instrument called the Slaine and throw it towards other volunteers who would spread the “sods” of turf out on the land with pikes.

One side would then dry in the sun after a week or two ( what sun there was in Ireland!) and then we’d all return to turn or “stook” the turf for further drying. Stooking the sods involved building little houses of turf like you would with cards. Yes – you had to be there. It was back breaking work. But the tea and sandwiches at lunch time was a time to be cherished.

Volunteers would sit amongst the turf and wonder why tea tasted better in the open air, in the shadow of the mountains with only the odd house to be seen in the vast wild countryside. We would wonder at the frogs staring at us and listen to the cuckoo entertain us.

Then after another few weeks we would bag the turf (backbreaking again) and load it onto trailers and tractor it off to those who needed fuel in our community for the coming autumn and cold winter months.

We did this and other fascinating activities as volunteers. But we never used the term volunteer. And I imagine our leader never considered himself as a volunteer manager.

We were just helping, and doing it for various reasons. There were some who were genuinely altruistic.

Back then if someone had asked me if I was altruistic too I would probably have said “actually I am Irish. What part of Alturista are you from?”

Some did it because they were bored in rural Ireland! Some did it to socialize and some purely “for the craic”.

The seeds of my future were being set.

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