Reflections on volunteering

Major Blunder ruminates on the importance of volunteers to small communities.  Long may they keep up the good work…

Volunteering – the thing that makes small communities in this nation hum smoothly rather than splutter along fitfully, struggling to achieve anything more than the minimum.

The very thing, Gentle Reader, that enables non-corporate charities to make the smell of an oily rag perform like a Trojan, and if given actual money then very miracles can be squeezed forth from the effort.

Once, not too long ago, still within living memory, it was generally considered to be the Duty – terrible word that, goes along with Responsibility, Integrity and all their uncomfortable bedfellows – of everyone to ‘put their hand up’ like a dutiful student and do whatever their community needed, large or small.

One can well-remember the regular gatherings at the district hall, the school or the church, for working bees, fundraisers for ‘the poor people in somewhere-else’ – odd, as we were not exactly well-to-do ourselves – or to celebrate communal events (the rural triumvirate of births, deaths and marriages, with 21sts, wedding anniversaries and dances thrown in for good measure). Of course, there were always those who never helped anyone if they could avoid it, but most would have been shocked to even consider not helping where needed.

In today’s world it seems a great deal of time and effort is spent on recognising Volunteers, and well-deserved most of it is, but one cannot help but feel that perhaps we now make a little too much of people doing what, by rights, they should perhaps just be doing in any case. Working for the hope of reward is what employment is for; volunteering provides its own rewards. Perhaps this is more a measure of the size of our communities where there are so many folk that you cannot hope to know all of them and the needs they might have. On the other hand, there are still those who, when they see a problem, feel that urge to help, to support, to protect, to conserve, or perhaps just to listen when a shoulder is needed to help lighten the load.

The face of volunteering has certainly changed with time, but the volunteers are still there, often striving in silence, for little or no thanks whatsoever. The problem seems to be the sheer volume of things that need to be done, that no-one else is taking any sort of responsibility for, particularly not elected officials. Worse, the level of bureaucracy has risen to such a point that volunteers are put off helping anyone without the proper Health and Safety documentation, a full Risk Assessment, a 2000 page written plan, consent of all and sundry from Cape Reinga to Bluff, and Public Liability insurance in case anyone else should be offended when one helps the elderly pedestrian across the street.

Fear not, Gentle Reader, to paraphrase Churchill in the extreme ‘We Will Never Surrender’ and volunteering will carry on, often in spite of so-called support, continuing the grand tradition of small communities everywhere.

After all, even the largest metropolis is made up of myriad villages in which everyone knows your name.

One remains, as ever, your most obedient servant –

Major Blunder, Officer Commanding, Fifth Waikato Dragoons Regiment, Northern Command, Alf’s Imperial Army. Humour in Uniform. Visit the website here.

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Number 8 Network - a community website for the rural areas northeast of Hamilton, NZ, is run by Gordonton journalist/editor Annette Taylor.

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