Editor's Note: The following post was written by Heifer Ranch volunteers. Stay tuned in 2013 for our upcoming Heifer Blog series, Volunteer Voices.
More than ever, it is often difficult to feel hopeful about the future - especially when one billion people live in urban slums, and nearly 870 million chronically hungry. Sometimes, it seems that our worries focus more on making money and the status of our economy rather than the plight of those less fortunate than we are. Yet, if we take a moment to slow down, there are people all around us dedicating their time and heart to local, national, and international causes that do make the world a better place. A bell is often ringing outside our supermarkets for the Salvation Army, your barista may mentor refugee children in return for a smile, and on cold winter nights food finds its way into the hands of those who do not have a home to come back to.
Here on the Heifer Ranch there are volunteers from all around the world who come and live on the ranch full-time. We work in the CSA garden, raise and care for livestock, work with school groups, and simply maintain the ranch as a whole.
But why do we volunteer? Why do people give so much of their time and effort and receive nothing in return? Often volunteering is a learning experience. Many of us had never been on a ranch before, knew nothing about raising livestock, sustainable agriculture, or issues relating to hunger and poverty, yet by being here and pushing ourselves, we have grown. Those that had never touched a sheep in person are now trimming their hooves. We know how to water a garden using a treadle pump after growing up having to just turn a faucet to receive this precious liquid. We have learned how to absorb the staggering statistics revolving around hunger and poverty and then convey this to students in a way that impacts and empowers them to act. And, we have all found ourselves acquiring mountains of crafty knowledge we had never envisioned prior to our arrival. Yet we also learn about who we are, about what we hold dear to ourselves, and what we want in the future.
From this, it may seem that volunteering is a personal activity, one that we do to learn or make ourselves happy. And though this may play a role in us being motivated to volunteer, this is normally not the reason one chooses to volunteer. There are many ways we can learn and gain experience while at the same time receiving something in return, like a job. And yes we often do find joy in the act of volunteering, but this seems to be an unavoidable side affect of performing a selfless act that helps aid others in need. Despite this, happiness is not the motivation of volunteers, because there are many other ways we could be spending our time that would load us full of such hedonistic feelings.
What brings us to volunteer is passion. We find ourselves captivated by so many different things, and for each person our drive is focused differently. Through volunteering we are able to translate our passion into a positive force. Those that are transfixed by the plight of the homeless in their community spend time at food banks and kitchens for the homeless. Those who dream of a food system where we can all thrive and be healthy spend time in community gardens. And those who are captivated by the struggle of those less fortunate in all corners of the Earth volunteer for organizations like Heifer, providing a hand up to those who see no help in sight.
Volunteering is a crucial action. It is one that humbles us, allows us to push past the individualism which often holds us back, gives to those who cannot give, and creates a loving community from which we all can thrive.
It is not that we all become full time residential volunteers, but that we can find the time to volunteer in some capacity. For no matter how small or how little time we have to give we make a difference. We fill a belly, bring about a smile, and empower someone who has never felt powerful.
Volunteers strive to reach that better world and motivate others to take time out of a busy schedule to perform a selfless deed and create a beautiful place to live. We have hope, hope in future where far more people perform work, thinking of someone other than themselves, hope for a better world. And as we write, we have faith that hope will become realize. More people are volunteering and, as on the sign one sees departing the Heifer Ranch, more people go in peace.