Volunteering should be mandatory — you will gain more than you give

“Ireland’s greatest indigenous renewable energy source, worth €3 billion per year, is neither wind, wave, solar, nor biomass — it is volunteering”.

This was stated by Marian Harkin MEP when she spoke at the opening of the European Year of Volunteering Roadshow in Dublin this week.

At a time when the country is not as affluent as it once was, it is absolutely heartening to know that its citizens are contributing their time free of charge in such a meaningful way.

Ireland’s volunteers are adding what was up to now incalculable value to local communities and the economy. But now a figure has been put on this work; €3 billion is nothing to be scoffed at. It might not be hard cash, but people’s time and dedication to causes they believe in is admirable and necessary for a functional society to prosper.

With the budget looming, the Government must be reminded of the value of volunteering and just what it means for our economy. They must also be reminded that funding to organisations which rely on volunteers to run them is vital and must not be cut.

Ms Harkin is right when she says that the hard-headed economist who might question the economic value of volunteering saying it won’t pay the mortgage or the EU/IMF loan is missing the point. Quality of life must be defined not in monetary terms but on our contribution to life.

The statistics say that for every €1 invested in volunteering the return is between €5 and €8. That’s an excellent return on an investment.

It should be mandatory for everyone to engage in some form of volunteering at some stage of their lives. Whether it is working with an organisation like Western Care, a cancer charity, your local GAA or soccer clubs, or the annual village festival, you receive immense satisfaction knowing that you have been part of something meaningful and worthwhile and you did it for completely unselfish reasons.

The Government should be on bended knee thanking the citizens of Ireland for the amount of fundraising that is done annually for vital pieces of health equipment which are benefiting public hospitals. Charities rely heavily on volunteers to raise funds. Just look at the devastating situation in Africa at present. We should not stand by and watch millions of innocent people face starvation when without much effort we could organise a fundraiser or get involved in a national campaign.

Sports clubs would cease to exist without volunteers. Must communities continue to grow and thrive around a particular sporting code be it rugby, soccer, or Gaelic. Getting involved is an excellent way to integrate into a community and ensure its survival.

Look at the phenomenally successful Tidy Towns initiative which sees hundreds of volunteers across the country ensuring their patch is pristine and picturesque every summer season. The prestige of winning a prize in this popular competition is great. But it’s about more than winning titles. When you look at the importance of tourism to Ireland, then the value of this type of work becomes so much more important. It’s all down to volunteers.

Ireland is awash with festivals small and large, mostly during the summer months. They would not happen without the local organising committee. Volunteers who come together year in, year out, to ensure the continued success of these festivals. And the economic value of such gatherings is huge for rural Ireland especially.

Your time is a precious resource. If we look at what is important in life and divide our time accordingly, there should be a place for volunteering in some shape or form. It might not be the top of your list, it doesn’t have to be, but a few hours given free to a worthy cause each week is something we should all strive for.

Happy volunteering!


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