Working for no money sucks. Gaining experience and insight into things you didn’t know you could do and learning more about yourself and the world in which you live in is priceless. When you decide to be a volunteer you tend to forget the first observation and concentrate on the latter. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much of the spirit of volunteering in Iceland. In a land where people start working as teenagers to earn their cold harsh cash so they can fulfil their consumer-driven dreams, working for free doesn’t seem like a desirable summer job.
I was talking to a friend of mine who helped fund an organisation whose main purpose is to set up young people with different towns in Iceland and give them a helping hand in anything imaginable, from managing pony rides at a fish festival in Dalvík, to marking the Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk trail, to growing organically delicious tomatoes in Sólheimar. He told me the biggest challenge for him so far has been convincing Icelanders to volunteer, even if for just two weeks. Most volunteer groups are actually made up of foreigners.
In my country there is a long history of volunteering. We aren’t in the best socio-economic position so we are used to helping each other out. I find it curious that such a wealthy and well-educated country as this proud hákarl-loving nation isn’t more inclined to enrich their lives through volunteer work. Maybe when things are so good it is hard to understand the plight of others. Either way, let me tell you, you are missing out.
The experiences I am most proud of and that have further developed my character as a global human being are related to my volunteer work. Whether making a terminally ill child smile or him (at the sophisticated age of eight) teaching me the value of life, to going to a small town in my native Puerto Rico with heaps of food, water, and clothing after a hurricane and seeing people fighting over a can of beans only to resolve the problem by cooking it together to working along people with learning difficulties in an eco-community and seeing the resilient fire that burns within a person who sees no limits to their abilities. This is the stuff that I will think about when I become a wrinkled reflection of myself. Being a coffee barista and eavesdropping on your customers’ conversations is enjoyable but lending a helping hand gives a much better high.
Cash can get you that state of the art foot massager but volunteering can open your eyes. I write this the day after feeling the trembling below my feet. Can’t help to think how lucky the people of Selfoss were. And how devastatingly catastrophic Mother Nature can be. If you have never volunteered make this your summer to take the plunge. All one has to do is put on the news to see the devastation in Myanmar and China to put things into perspective. Regardless of my opinion about the brutalities of their governments, these are people whose survival right now is based on aid and volunteers.
If you are interested in volunteering for the first time, the world is yours. Every country has some type of program that facilitates your help going to where it is needed, from Namibia to Portugal. You can even think about it as a working vacation. It is a great way to immerse yourself in a country and create bonds with people who you might have otherwise never met. I think its time for the Icelandic youth to get out of their comfort zone and Kringlan-obsessed mentality to prove what I know to be true: that their generation really does give a shit.