Don’t Be Fooled, Volunteering Is a Very Expensive Lifestyle
It was a girl named Folakemi that dragged me into it. She had these locs on her head that I couldn’t keep my hands off anytime our paths crossed in Preclinical Lecture Theatre. I can’t remember the exact words she said but since we already had a working platonic relationship, all she needed was to poke me before I fell into the rollercoaster ride that characterizes the life of a serial volunteer. The following week, I met myself in the monthly meeting of One African Child, a volunteer hub in Ibadan that champions the mandate of proper education of the African child. The following semester, I joined Friends of Damien Foundation where we push advocacy about the prevention and treatment of tuberculosis and leprosy. It will however take me two solid years to find the truth about volunteering.
On the surface, you will be told volunteering is one noble cause that allows you to be a part of something greater than yourself. The evangelists are everywhere; you see them in WhatsApp broadcast messages, e-flyers on WhatsApp status, and social media: “Asido Campus Network is recruiting”, “Come and volunteer with Upfolio”, “Red Cross membership form is out” – calls in every corner beckoning on you to become the next Mother Theresa and Mahatma Gandhi. To the unsuspecting newbie, volunteering is as simple as giving out your time and labor freely to benefit others, either as a group or as an individual. There are several forms in which this can take, it can be in the form of environmental volunteering, contributing to an open-source software, or supporting victims of wars and disasters. However, like a Wikipedia section whose real volume is known only after you must have clicked on it, there is more to volunteering than meets the eye.
The Cost of Volunteering
When one of our coordinators told me the economic value of volunteering, I was taken aback. I can’t remember the exact figure but it is in the billions of dollars. Resources online however submitted that the value of a volunteer work hour is $25.43 and they spend 52 hours a year on average in volunteering. This means in a year, volunteers give value worth $1,322.36. Converted to naira using the current exchange of ₦416/dollar will give ₦661,180. This doesn’t seem like much but when you consider someone that spends at least 2 hours a day volunteering, the total hours in a year can climb to 728 hours which will bring the value in naira to about ₦7.6 million. Initially, I was proud to be a part of a multibillion industry but with time, I had to ask the question: Who am I to be giving out this much value? What is my own net worth exactly? Who is bankrolling this La vida loca lifestyle?
The numbers get crazier when you start to consider the opportunity cost. For those that have lost touch with their basic economics, opportunity cost is the value of options not taken and like a doppelganger, it exists for every decision we make. For instance, if you picked the University of Ibadan as your preferred choice of institution because it is the first and the best while your parents could afford Babcock University, there is an opportunity cost. Talk about ASUU strike and poor student welfare that you won’t experience if you hadn’t made such a choice. When it comes to volunteering, the opportunity cost comes in the form of jobs and other personal development plans that you might have to slaughter to appease the god of volunteering. You won’t even have to think deeply before you begin to count the losses because volunteering will put the knife in your hands and command you to slit their throats.
Hear Me out Before You Crucify Me
I know a couple of people are already sharpening their dagger for me after reading this. Either the one kept in their pocket or in their mouth but before I become another atonement for volunteering, hear me out first. I am not saying you shouldn’t volunteer, in fact there are chances that you will ultimately not lose with volunteering because it houses so many benefits. Volunteers have been shown to live longer than those who don’t. It boosts mental health and it is a way to solidify social bonds. However, you are not likely to make the most of your time volunteering if you don’t come to terms with these huge costs that come with the activity. In other countries, they have it better by tying volunteering with academic credits. As a Nigerian who doesn’t have this luxury, you shouldn’t spend your time like a pauper in the court of volunteering.
I am also hopelessly in love with volunteering and I will advise everyone I meet to take it up. If not for anything at all, at least for the 2 years work experience Nigerian Hiring Managers expect young graduates to cough up during their quests of looking for jobs. You can also get to network with great people that can give your career a boost but like every love affair, while you love with your heart, don’t leave your head out of the equation. Volunteering can be that friend who is ready to waste your time with you on temporary gratification until you start asking the right questions.
How to Love Volunteering Right
You need to align your volunteering activities with your future goals and ambition. In communities such as the University of Ibadan, there are numerous volunteer organizations ready to take your time but you have to be strategic with the one you choose. This implies looking out for the ones that will give you a good return for the investment of your time. Don’t be like my friend, Theophilus, who joined the Publicity unit Hamstrings Club and when he saw that Asido Campus Network was also recruiting, he applied but to the directorate of Socials and Welfare this time around. When he saw the broadcast message of Friends of Damien Foundation, calling for new members, he liked it and joined their content creation team. Meanwhile, I saw a tweet yesterday that he just started his tech bro journey as a UI/UX designer. Don’t be like Theophilus that does so much but with no correlation among the things he does. You have to weave everything together in a single narrative. Let your interest and passion check out with your ambition and volunteering efforts, this is the way you can make your CV robust and relevant.
If there is one thing I wish I knew when I started out volunteering is that together till death do us part is not a valuable badge. In fact, you should make plans to leave. There is no code of conduct that mandates that you spend four years with a particular organization and setting goals you want to achieve within the time you have earmarked will ensure you are proactive in achieving your goals. Do this to ensure that you are prepared for better opportunities that might come your way. It will save you the headache of overstretching your time and preventable burnouts.
The key here is to not lose sight of the bigger picture while you chase instant gratification. Do not be poor in value and wallet while you try to give generously back to society. Remember, you can only give out of the abundance that you have.