How to be a good volunteer

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Sameer Verma

Aug 27, 2010, 2:37:22 PM8/27/10
to OLPC SF, One Laptop per Child Jamaica,, olpc
An excellent set of posts at

I am pasting these here verbatim.


CHOOSE YOUR ROLE. Look at all possible projects and ask yourself two
questions: What would I really want to do and what kind of skills do I
have? You could bring increased value by helping using your skill set,
however you can always try something new if you feel strongly about a
particular project. There are many projects and we are sure there will
be at least one that speaks to your heart.

SET REALISTIC GOALS by not trying to change the world overnight or
help everyone! It is hard for one person to save everyone, sorry, but
you are not a superhero. Instead, begin with one person, one animal,
or one group that you can help. Then make one achievable goal and work
toward it. Always remember, there are a lot of us and our collective
volunteer power is strong. All of your efforts are multiplied by the
efforts of others.

HAVE REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS about your living conditions and how easy
daily tasks should be. Remember, you are not going on vacation: you
are doing a project! There will be resistance and obstacles. Sure, you
will meet new people and have fun, but it will require hard work in
new conditions. Sometimes you will have to share a dorm room with
other volunteers; you may encounter cockroaches; have a language
barrier or learn that your instructions are not followed etc… It is
not the end of the world. You will be there with people who have the
same values. Later in life, perhaps, you’ll remember this time as the
best experience, when you were both driven and audacious.

SWITCH OR NOT TO SWITCH, that’s the question when you start to waiver
on your project. Do not be hasty. If you do not like your first
project, and you feel less skilled think of it as a learning
experience. If you feel overwhelmed or have a fear of failing, why not
overcome it? Prove to yourself that you are more than what you
thought you were capable of and keep at it. If you still do not like
it or do not feel confident, then switch projects. Maybe you will be
exceptionally good at something else.

LEARN. Even if you are an expert, there is always a lesson to be
learned. Life is a two-way street: we teach and we learn. You will
need to know how to get the assignment done; especially in a new
country, things may be very different. This could require learning new
skills or using different materials. If you need more training to get
ready, ask for the manuals, a demonstration and/or assistance. If you
know what to do and how to do it well, it will be easier to help


MAKE AN EFFORT! Showing up to do your project is only the first step.
It is important to take your volunteer work seriously. You are
providing help to people and places that are in real need. Your value
to the project is parallel to the effort you put in. Sometimes, it is
hard to give 100% to your project, but please try. Specifically,
always come on time to your project and be appropriately dressed no
matter how much partying occurred the night before or what the
thermometer reads that morning. Constantly remind yourself why you
signed up to volunteer.

If you push yourself, you will find your own limits, talents, and
skills you never knew about. Often people realize their potential is
more than what they ever estimated. As you extend yourself, the
project will succeed because you gave it 100%. You will amaze yourself
and those around you.

POSITIVE ATTITUDE is imperative. Think about those around you who are
in need or in trouble. You are there to help them, not bring negative
energy. Please, stay upbeat, think of any difficulties as a learning
experience, and try to resolve them diplomatically. Always have a
positive attitude and demonstrate to others that you are there
volunteering by choice.

BE RESPECTFUL Always remember to demonstrate respect for other people
and other cultures, no matter how much culture shock you are going
through. Keep in mind that your way of thinking or living is not the
only one or even the right one. What is normal to you may not be
normal to others. If you seriously disagree about something, speak to
a project leader first. He or she will consult with you, explain the
differences and suggest ways of how to behave in the future. Consider
yourself and your actions as an ambassador of your own culture. You
want to present yourself well and be respected by others, and this is
not achievable if you act snobby or superior. Going to another country
means following their rules, as you are a guest, and they are the

BE FLEXIBLE AND OPEN-MINDED as there maybe a shift in your schedule or
a change in your role or responsibilities. It is life. Nothing is
permanent in life except for change.


DO NOT GIVE UP! You will all have moments, when you doubt your
decision to volunteer. You will have a serious urge to stop and go
back to your normal life and to your familiar routine. Sometimes you
will feel bored, sometimes exhausted, and sometimes mad at the people
you work with who are not cooperating. You may even feel angry with
Cheb for getting you involved in being a volunteer. Talk to others and
share your problems because you are not alone. Everyone is going
through the same phases, but remember this stage is temporary, and it
will pass. Always look forward and remember again why you chose to be
there. When you finish the project, you will look back and see the
progress and be amazed with the results.

BE KIND to others. This could mean your peer volunteers, the project
manager, or a local person. You never know what other people are going
through as they may be very vulnerable, sad, or dealing with difficult
issues. We all need support. If you see someone going through a hard
time, try to make him or her smile, offer help or just share your
experience. Sometimes all we need are kind words, and also remember
people’s privacy. If they do not want to share, please do not force
the conversation. If they do engage you, do your best to understand
what other people are going through, even if it’s something you’ve
never dealt with yourself. You will get so much credit for being kind
to someone. Treat others as you would want to be treated, and you will
begin to make friends on this adventure as well.

BE SAFE. If you break your leg or get robbed, it will not make your
experience efficient or enjoyable. Be prepared in advance and read
about cultural norms and safety rules in the area of your project
beforehand. Being prepared also means taking the necessary
precautions: getting appropriate insurance policies and all needed
immunizations, backing up your computer files, pictures, etc. Do not
take unnecessary risks. We want you to be safe, so that you can come
back and tell about your experiences to others who want to go and
continue what you started.

MEASURING YOUR PROGRESS. Many of you will be looking to measure
success of your project participation. Did you really make a
difference? The answer is yes. Whether you built a house for someone,
created a fund-raising campaign, or made a child smile, you did it –
you made a change, you made someone happier and improved the world.
Additionally, in the process of volunteering, we are sure you improved
yourself by simply making an effort to be a better human.

Dr. Sameer Verma, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Information Systems
Director, Campus Business Solutions
San Francisco State University

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