Volunteering does make your life better; and, in some cases, it even becomes your profession
Starting out in the unknown world of volunteering at the sensitive age of sixteen and moving on till now that I turned fifty has been a hell of a ride! But it was not without failures and gaps and breaks and second thoughts. Because, let’s admit it…working conscientiously and mindfully to ensure basic human rights that should be undeniable and universal oftentimes becomes disconcerting and an exercise in futility.
However, it is through volunteering in order to be socially active, learn myself, spend my time constructively and spread energy and love that I found myself professionally.
As a concerned student Amnesty International was my first volunteer experience which did teach me a lot and finalized my decision to do legal studies. Law as a profession, however, did not suit me but learning the science was profoundly enjoyable and useful and got me into my second volunteer post with a ngo dealing with EU matters when the EU was still in the making. That and my double studies in communication and all things media got me a communication post with SCI where I know coordinate youth projects and hold training sessions on comms (as is usually called) along with social media production and dissemination.
Working with youngsters from various national and cultural backgrounds is both invigorating and didactic especially when you see people using the tools they are accustomed to for fun and entertainment in a completely different way. Or when they learn about a tool they can use to make their life easier.
Let me give you an example… Such is the case with presentations they have to make during their studies or at work more vivid or even their CVs more outstanding. During CHAPTER Remembrance Week in Athens -a SCI project aiming at casting a light on propaganda before and during WWII, focusing on its role to enforce the concept of “enemy” – from national and ethnic groups to political opponents and social groups, – we looked for a way to present the difficult topics we have been working on in an understandable and shareable way that can attract the attention of young people and came up with the idea of infographics.
Based on the adaptability of this sort of media being “a clipped compound of text and graphic design which serve as representations of information, data, or knowledge intended to present information quickly and clearly and which can improve cognition by using images and graphics to enhance the human visual system’s ability to see patterns and trends”, infographics are everywhere even if we don’t realise it sometimes. Journalists, educators, scientists, artists use them.
The minute we explained, showed examples of, and explored the numerous possibilities of various genres and got everyone excited about them we moved on to create our own media on propaganda and how it works in various ways to turn the attention of the people who receive. Eager to try their hands on this they delved into the wonderful world of a new means of communication which is both fun and useful. Mentoring young people is also rewarding and keeps you on your toes for any signs of support needed on your part but also keeps you young! The more you do this work with people, the more you learn so it’s kind of a steal on the part of the mentor, truth be told.
What we need in such non-formal settings, however, is a sense of formality and recognition of the work a youth trainer is supposed to do because it is more than obvious to all of us who deal in non-formal training, learning and education in general that this is the kind of work schools should be engaged into. We nurture critical thinking skills and suggest coping mechanisms in cases where the development of character, employment and soft skills and, most of all, active citizenship is the target.
Therefore, youth trainers are people who need support themselves working in various settings with groups or individuals with difficulties without being teachers, psychologists or social workers but incorporating skills of all the above to offer the support needed.
And believe me when I say that no matter the difficulties at the end of the day your gut says you have been doing the right thing!