Often when we talk about voluntary work, we wonder if ‘work’ is the best word to describe reciprocal interaction that is intrinsic to volunteering. Therefore, the term ‘voluntary activity’ is used increasingly. Perhaps voluntary activity describes better the real nature of volunteering.
Voluntary activity is based on reciprocity and everyone feeling that they bring something more to the table. It is all about giving and receiving, solidarity and celebrating diversity, voluntarism, and cooperation.
Voluntary activity is very important to different organisations, and the feedback we have received shows that volunteers themselves get a lot out of it as well. Every volunteer has their own story to tell.
Work and leisure time mixed up – in a very lovely way
Merja Lehmussaari, a volunteer at Citizen Forum, has had the opportunity to take part in diverse tasks. Already as a child, she started working for an early youth organisation and ended up as the vice president of the same organisation. She also worked as a representative of the same organisation in preparatory commission for government aid of youth organisations.
In addition to this, memberships in diverse administrations, municipal positions of responsibility, and donating monthly to an important organisation have been part of organisation and voluntary activities of Lehmussaari.
– At the moment, I teach Finnish for immigrants in the Let’s Read Together group. I’m also a peer support person at Työluuri (‘Work phone’), and I answer to callers who are worried about their working situation in the exceptional circumstances caused by corona virus, Lehmussaari tells. She adds that she is on-call duty at this very moment.
Lehmussaari has worked her whole working life in organisations. She retired from the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK) after having worked 17 years both as a secretary of the organisation and as an education specialist.
– Also, being a member and volunteer in different organisations has always been important to me. That’s why my work and leisure time have always been mixed up in a very lovely way.
At Citizen Forum, Lehmussaari has participated in the planning of Volunteer Fairs and helped during the fairs as well.
– I also participated in preparing the strategy of Citizen Forum, and a couple of years ago on Helsinki Day, I took part in giving out clothes to people in need of them at Vaasa market square. Last time, I guess we had a remote meeting and we tried to think of new ways to volunteer in the exceptional circumstances.
Volunteering in genes
Lehmussaari says that the best thing in volunteering is participating in activities that correspond to your own values and that aim to improve the actual situation – together with other volunteers. In addition to this, she likes to get to know new people and learn new things.
– Giving out clothes to people was the most significant voluntary experience for me. Why’s that? Because there I jumped into something very new to me. During just a couple of hours, I experienced and learned more than in half of the meetings of my career.
Lehmussaari tells that the most challenging thing in voluntary activity is to dare to step out of your comfort zone and to be yourself when participating in group activity. Nevertheless, she thinks that volunteering is in her genes. She grew up in a family where volunteering was part of their everyday life.
– Volunteering makes me feel important and my life joyful. And organisations are an essential part of functioning civil society. There’s no real democracy without them.
Volunteers, such as Lehmussaari, who do not see volunteering only as ‘work’ are a great example of what volunteering can give to society. Volunteering does not just provide help for people in need but gives meaningful experiences to volunteers. Many similar stories prove that participating in organisation and volunteering activities continues after retiring as well. You could say that the reciprocity of volunteering is an essential building block for developing an individual feeling of well-being as well as togetherness in society.
Text: Lia Pursiainen
Intern at Citizen Forum, student of social and public policy
Translator: Mika Kirvesniemi