6 Ways Volunteering Will Change Your Life

By: Yara Daoud

Admit it, you’re pretty lucky. You’re reading this article, which means you have an Internet connection. With that, presumably, you have a roof over your head and food on the table. Sometimes, it’s hard to think of the privilege we carry with the life we have here in the United States. We shut down when our social media apps are flooded with graphic images of what goes on overseas. The posts are sandwiched between someone’s latest selfie and a recipe. Their lives are becoming normalized on our screens.

We often skip videos on our timeline of a child in Palestine or Syria, the Rohingya crisis, the hurricanes, malnutrition in Yemen, and police brutality because they’re too much for us to handle — because in that moment, we’re on social media for entertainment, and that person’s life is too heavy for us to take part in.

Although it hurts us to see these images, our community has become too desensitized to them. It’s a norm to find these stories on our timeline and just skip past them. We could feel so much pain, but then what? Do we carry it into our day-to-day lives? What is this doing to our hearts? How do we help without hurting ourselves in the process?

Volunteering: Here’s how it can help.

Aids in the recovery 

Relief programs send humanitarian assistance to those directly affected by trauma. Volunteering doesn’t cost you any money — just your time. You can provide food or you can be the one to provide them an education. People’s lives begin to change for the better, and you are the reason for it.

Volunteers prepare aid packages for Hurricane Harvey victims at ZF headquarters in Chicago.
Brings power back to the people

Sometimes we may feel helpless when it comes to the system failing or when we see who is running the country. With racism and discrimination toward black and brown folks prominent in this country, we live with a sense of defeat at times. Although volunteering is a small part of the solution, you are reclaiming your power. We are showing not only ourselves, but our local officials what we, as a community, are capable of and where we stand on global issues. We show them that we’re not going to stay quiet and that we’re united with the people.

One of my favorite stories sets place in the 1960s, when Malcolm X was organizing. A man was wrongly beaten and thrown into prison. Malcolm X rounded up people throughout his walk over to the police station. People volunteered their time and their voices, and when they reached the station, they had hundreds of people at that door. The man was set free. They were able to set him free together. When we stand together, and more importantly when we work together, we can do extraordinary things.

In Puerto Rico, ZF distributes emergency aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
Helps alleviate depression

Volunteering has many physical benefits, but its mental benefits are most important. A 2009 Johns Hopkins study shows that volunteering increases brain function and helps reduce stress levels. Working with a group of people who share the same common goal helps people feel a sense of community and trust. With increased brain function, serotonin production levels increase and endorphins are released, creating a strong sense of happiness.

Brings meaning into your life

Seeing these images on our screens may make us feel helpless, but by volunteering, we feel a sense of accomplishment and add meaning into our lives with our service. You are the reason for someone’s happiness. You brought relief to a family in need. You were part of a positive change in the world.

Humbles you

Volunteering is a great way to teach us and build our morals and our principles. It reminds us how lucky we are and what others don’t have that we do. When we complain about our problems, we can take a moment to thank God that it isn’t worse.

Connect with other communities

Volunteering is a way to gain new experiences. It doesn’t stop with volunteering for one cause. There’s much to be done out there, and you can help with all sorts of causes. Volunteering allows you to meet new people, build stronger relationships with people who have the same commitments at hand, grow your community, and connect with other communities. For example, with a history of systematic oppression, Palestinian and Black communities are able to work together because they share a similar struggle. When black folks were being pepper sprayed during Black Lives Matter protests, Palestinians in the West Bank/Gaza sent over tips on how to protect yourself with a crushed onion wrapped around your face.

Volunteering does not stop at packaging food kits and making sandwiches for the homeless. Go out and find a volunteering opportunity that you think fits you best. Ask local communities you are not a part of how you can be a better ally and how you can volunteer your time and your help so that the next time you see an issue online, you already know you are part of the solution.

Contact [email protected], to join our volunteer contact list.