Valuable lessons learnt from volunteering experiences

In my last article, ‘Stepping into an ad hoc volunteer leadership roles’, I shared my thoughts on lessons learnt on leadership specific to volunteering. In this article, which is the last of the volunteering series of 4 articles, I will attempt to reflect and consolidate my learning within my volunteering experiences. Some of these learning are most related to overcoming bias, automated initial responses, shedding assumptions that people need help; and, plenty more.

Assuming that we are going in to ‘give’:

Invariably, we end up something receiving far greater than what we have given. We assume that when people don’t have electricity, don’t own brick house or don’t have running water in their house – they are deprived, and we have to provide those resources for them. We have to take the reality check and ask do they really need it? How will it impact their life? When we actually live their lifestyle, we may end up realizing – theirs is a simple life style that we are actually craving for and we actually save up for a holiday for a year to experience their simple lifestyle. Now, I go in with the anticipation and expectation of what I am going to discover or learn about myself.

Keeping the balance:

Sometimes, our need to give is bigger than the situation warrants. We need to be able to read the situation and see if it is necessary and how much to give. I have had to learn the skill of ‘graded giving’. For e.g. when running a workshop, when I operate on the mode “I want to do my best”, “Give it my all” – although it is well-intentioned, people may not be able to digest it all.

Assumptions about gender roles:

Through my interactions with Omani women in Ibra, which I then considered to be a remote area 5 years ago, women considered themselves blessed and lucky because they did not have to do things alone (what I referred to as ‘independence’ and ‘adventure’ for myself and worked hard for). They felt lucky that their men look after their basic survival needs, organised the ‘headaches’ of transport/travel arrangements and made decisions and solved major household problems. In their view, they felt that city women (like me!) were not so lucky because they had to earn money for themselves and travel alone for work (What!?). Believe it or not, they felt sorry for me. It was simply a matter of perspective.

Finger spelling and signs – An amazing life skill:

My experience as a Teacher’s Aide with the deaf and mute offered a wealth of learning. I was exposed to learning finger spelling and rudimentary signs. Decades later, I still find using my hands as a beautiful form of expression. During intense emotional moments, when I can’t trust my words in ‘upset’, I choose to express myself with my eyes, facial expression and hands. My ‘listener’ and I are fully engaged in communication. I am focused on expressing my emotions fully and they are engaged fully in trying to understand me. Sometimes verbal communication merely imparts information. Eliminating words allows me to focus on the ‘feeling expressions. That is such a beautiful gift I received! In gratitude!!

To conclude, my volunteering experiences have unlocked some really insightful learning and have given me the opportunity to learn and grow and check my narratives or my first impressions and responses. Some of these experiences have been massive perspective shifters. I look forward to more of these experiences.




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