Saturday, December 18, 2010




Don J Volau reports from Alturia where a secret underground of volunteering is taking place.

I had never even heard of the island of Alturia until I received the anonymous email last month. Disbelief and suspicion were the only ways to describe my feelings to that email. A hoax surely I thought to myself. A follow on letter with a return ticket to this island got my rapid attention though. If this is a hoax then the last laugh will be for me I thought as I needed a few days away with sun, sea and Saxophone! So I packed my saxophone and boarded Alturia Air and headed for this mysterious island.

Talk about a rough trip. The food was rough. The service was rough. Even the landing was rough. As soon as I landed I sent a report to MJ Cowlings Travel Blog.

I was met by a placard carrying man aged in his sixties. Unfortunately he had gotten my name wrong and I looked nervously at Security as I approached the man with the placard that said “ Bong J”.

My hopes of heading straight to the hotel and having a long hot bath with toasted sanwiches were dashed when my contact, who identified himself as Socrates, informed me that we had to head straight to a meeting of the SVS – the Secret Volunteering Society. I secretly scanned our vehicle for cameras fully expecting to be framed for some reality show but I could spot none. If they were secret and hidden cameras they were doing their job well.

The capitol of Alturia is Alturia. They have a famous song in these parts called Alturia Alturia. Though this has no relevance to this article I thought I would mention it anyway.

We stopped outside an abandoned building. I knew this because the sign on the door said “abandoned building”

My new friend Socrates knocked on this door three times. Then a voice behind the door – “Password” I stifled a giggle but unfortunately with that effort I let off some wind. Socrates frowned at me as he replied ‘SV7”. The door opened and we entered.

Inside was a room.

In it a long table. Gathered around the table were two dozen people. Men and women. Young and old. I was seated at the back of the room and pulled out my tape recorder.

The meeting began.

A tall gentleman without a hair on his head but with a luscious beard began.

“Welcome to our regulars and a warm welcome to our new visitors. I am SV 1. Thank you for volunteering to be here tonight.” With that the room erupted with laughter. I sat there wondering what the joke was and pretended to laugh along. I dared not attempt stifling another giggle.

“We are gathered here tonight to allow our stories to be told and to release our sense of guilt. And although that guilt feels real we support each other because it has no basis in reality. I continue to volunteer at my local homeless hostel because it makes me feel good, it will help me get a job in my chosen field, it looks great on my resume and my volunteering story is a great hit with the chicks”

More laughter. More stifling.

“I am a selfish volunteer” – and yet I dare not reveal my motivation for volunteering. As you are well aware some people have hijacked the definition of volunteering over the years. Now peope are saying that volunteering on our island can only be altruistic. There can be no tangible return for volunteers. There can be no other motivation for volunteering other than being a good and loving citizen who wants to give a helping hand to others”

He had my attention

“All of us have become experts at lying at volunteer interviews and we help others do the same. We are misunderstood. We are banished because of ignorance. And yet we provide the same benefit to the community as those Pure Volunteers.”

Mumbles all around.

And then individuals spoke

“Hi I am SV 411”

The room responds- “Hi SV 411”

“Last week I went for a volunteer interview and didn’t tell them I was a job seeker”

Oohs and aahs reverberated around the room. I looked puzzled at Socrates who was seated beside me. He whispered in my ear – “last year job seekers were barred from applying for volunteer positions in society because they were deemed a flight risk if they got jobs. They were also deemed to be users of volunteering..tsk..tsk..”

“Hi I am SV 526 and I volunteer at a NNFP”

The room took a collective gasp of breath and people approached this lady giving her hugs and shaking her hands.

Again I looked towards Socrates for guidance.

“She volunteers at a nursing home that is privately owned. So she volunteers at a non not for profit. Her type is frowned at by the peak body for volunteering here. In fact in their literature they say she doesn’t exist”

I looked at this lady with concerned eyes now.

“Don’t worry Bong; we have secret social workers to assist her with her volunteering identity crisis”

‘It’s Don actually”

And I heard more stories from Secret Volunteers or SVS as they are known. The night ended with everyone linking arms and singing “My way” by Frank Sinatra.

The next morning I flew out of Alturia with that dreadful airline. On their in flight magazine I was bemused by the printing of their national anthem on the back page

“Have Alturia always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don't in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Alturia to give you wealth.
Alturia gave you a splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn't anything else to give you.”

By the way – I never got time to play the saxophone. I thought I should mention this. I thought you might find this detail important.

Don J Volau

December 18, 2010

With apologies to Constantine P Cavafy

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