While riding on a train after a meeting a client today, I came across an article about a man who made a difference to the lives of children living in a small village in the Philippines. These children had to swim 2 kilometres and walk another 5 just to get to school every day. Their determination moved him so much that he decided to set up a fund to help them.
The good Samaritan later noted that the real heroes were actually the children themselves, not him. They were the ones who had inspired him to take that first step to help.
People often ask me me these:
“Why do you volunteer?”
The truth is, you can’t inspire others when you are not inspired yourself in the first place. More often than not, it’s usually the little things that touch you the most.
I don’t cry when I watch romantic movies (with the exception of a few), but when I listen to a speech presented with such passion for a particular cause, I get a lump in my throat. When I read about the selfless work of others like what that man did for the children in the Philippines, I get that tight knot in my chest. When I witness how others remain true to their cause despite all the odds, I think of how little I have done.
Once when I facilitated a workshop carried out by the MyConstitution campaign for the Orang Kurang Upaya (OKUs), it was all I could do to keep myself from tearing up when a blind participant held my phone so close to his ear just so that he could listen to Justin Bieber sings.
On another occasion, as I was listening to a thank you speech, I swear I could see in the speaker’s sad eyes how he had suffered injustice and how grateful he was that someone had stepped in to change that. What happened after that is err… kind of embarrassing to divulge here.
The point is, these are one of those moments that make me realise how an individual has the power to change someone else’s life for the better.
“How do you find the time?”
Well, you don’t. You make time for it. Certainly all of us have commitments, be it work or family. Yet experience has taught me that if you set your heart to one thing, everything else will fall into place.
I am barely in my second year of legal practice, so you can imagine the many things I have yet to learn before one can say, “Wow, she is good at what she does.” Still, things couldn’t have been better and I am not saying this because my year-end bonus is just around the corner.
Really, I am always thankful for the wonderful support I have from the people at work.
While trying to juggle my work and volunteering commitments, inevitably I find myself not being able to spend as much time with my family as I want to, but their understanding makes me feel so undeserving. I am also grateful for the endless streams of support received from fellow volunteers, who just like you, are also trying hard to juggle various life commitments.
Admittedly, there were times where volunteering work can be a challenge when priorities clash.
I have meetings that last into the night when I have to be in court the next day. I have emails from the committee I volunteer for that requires urgent attention when I am rushing to finish a submission. I receive calls from my client right in the middle of a workshop I am facilitating.
There were times when the devil in me would say, “Ah screw it, I’m tired” but that is when my thoughts stray to others who have done far more for others. If they can do it, what excuse do I have?
At the end of the day, it’s only a matter of whether you want to do it, or you don’t.
“Errr…but don’t you have a life?”
Oh…that’s harsh but I did ponder on this for quite some time. What is life to one might not be worth living to others.
Once a sweet girl approached me and said that reading the account of the work I did as part of my legal aid work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) made her want to do the same.
There was another time at the end of a MyConstitution Campaign presentation, one person from the audience came up and commented how glad he was that we are running such a campaign. He shoved a RM50 donation for the campaign into my hands before walking away. These are the little things that tell me that I am doing the right thing. Knowing what I do has an impact on others, especially when I least expect it, takes the meaning of life to an entirely different level. That, to me is living life.
Sure, I have plans. Among others, I want to advance from a rookie lawyer to an accomplished one. But if anything, doing volunteering work has helped me towards achieving that.
Networking aside, volunteering work pushes me to take a stand on issues I would otherwise ignore. It takes me out of my comfort zone. It changes me from being a shy and reserved person I once was (really I was). I now know that shying away is not the best solution to everything. As much as I want to impact others in however small ways I can through my volunteering work, I have now realised that it has in return impacted me in the process.
“Will you still be doing volunteer work in the years to come?”
Why, yes. My reasons remain unchanged.