“Empowerment Volunteering”

I think I may have invented a new bit of jargon for the literature – ‘Empowerment Volunteering’! Here is how it came about…

Rajeev was attending a morning tea in Oasis convened by the International Student Services Unit to give international students an opportunity to socialise.

Afterwards Lisa, our Oasis Administrative Officer, introduced him to me and told me that he wanted to volunteer in Oasis.

We sat down in a quiet room to talk about this. Rajeev is a ‘mature age student’, a paediatrician from the UK. He is concerned about health and poverty. He had saved up $60,000 in the UK to come to Australia to undertake a Masters course in health sciences – Flinders is, according to him, the only university in Australia that awards a Masters degree in Public Health with an international development component. He wants to gain a position in either of the World Health Organisation or a United Nations body like UNICEF, so that he can make a better contribution by directing resources to where he believes there are most needed.

I asked him about his religious convictions, which by his conversation,seemed to be driving his altruism. He is Hindu.

We had a brief conversation about the his beliefs, and from the light in his eyes, I could tell his Hindu faith was the source of his life and of his his quest. I sensed this might be the start of a wonderful friendship.

As he shared his life with me, I could not think of any obvious Oasis project he might slot into. So finally, I suggested that he merely drop-in for a cup of tea when he had a spare moment and begin to make himself at home in Oasis, listening to fellow students, who also come in to relax and enjoy each other’s company. In that way way, I thought, by the process of listening, some project or engagement might suggest itself to him – some idea that might derive from within his own being in response to these conversations.  Or, he might find that hospitality is of itself, a significant contribution to others, as I have.

He was quick to understand what I was suggesting.

As I considered this later, I thought that what I had stumbled on was a different way in which volunteering can be nurtured. Not the slotting in of appropriate persons into pre-established projects, but allowing what is within a person to take shape in response to and interacting with their environment in the context of a hospitable community.

We shall see how it works out. But I have a feeling that by trusting a patient, open process, the outcome will be life-giving and significant.

In the meantime I am boldly naming a new method re the formation of volunteers – ‘Empowerment Volunteering’!

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