Charity…? Volunteering – ?
“I can’t afford to do something for nothing!”
How often have you been faced with those words? I’ve even used them myself, privately, in my own thoughts. Especially when desperately looking for a way to earn an income when we arrived in the UK from Africa at the turn of the century.
Roy (my husband) and I came because he needed better health care in the aftermath of his cancer. And although our NHS has its problems, there is still nothing to compare with its services.
We spent our savings on buying a flat at the foot of the beautiful South Downs. And I needed to find a job. But I was too old. “You wouldn’t fit it,” were the euphemistic words they used. I eventually found a part-time admin job, but the pace nearly killed me. “They” were right; I was too old.
The one thing I could still do – after two attempts at qualifying to British standards – was judge dressage. I’ve been horse-mad all my life, and involved the family in every conceivable branch of equestrian activities in Kenya. Judging dressage was a way to keep in with the horsey world, and it was no problem to volunteer my services as a means of giving something back. I have discovered that the standard mileage expenses I earn cover the annual cost of running my car. How cool is that!
One day, I read an advertisement in the local paper. Age Concern was looking for volunteer Advocates, and they were offering a six-week training course to successful candidates. My mind went into overdrive. It would be a way of learning how the system works in this country. And there was another factor: Roy’s numerous medical conditions were not going to go away; he had already aged fifteen years over the course of twenty-four hours after his first operation. Being an Advocate for Age Concern might teach me how to cope with him in old age.
The work was interesting and rewarding. It is amazing how the smallest of interventions can bring blessed relief. Like the couple who were being hounded by the Gas company for a colossal bill. It was obviously an error in the computing system. But the company wouldn’t take their word for it. I only had to call the Gas company from the clients’ home, introduce myself as their Advocate for Age Concern, then go to the meter and confirm the reading. And the matter was settled.
Another couple, new to the area, were deadlocked against their former County Council over the relocation of their severely disabled daughter. I waded through the extensive correspondence, and could feel the intense frustration from both sides, coming at the problem from different perspectives. I shrugged my shoulders.
“You’re digging yourselves into an impossible mire,” I said. “You are fed up with the County Council, and no doubt they are fed up with you.” They nodded. “You want to have your daughter nearby, and you’ve found a place for her. Why don’t you just do it? Stop arguing, and bring her down?”
The enlightenment and relief on their faces as the possibility dawned was a wonder to behold.
Of course, some things don’t work.
· Like becoming involved with a desperate widow who had a black cat and indulged in the occult. She wanted to go into sheltered housing, and needed to sell her home. But she had a jealous, adopted son, who wanted to inherit the cottage. She secretly cut him out of her will; but could not bring herself to break free from his clutches.
· Or trying to help an elderly lady escape from her bullying husband. She had found herself another place to live, yet had told her husband where she was. I was there when she let him in, and he wouldn’t let me go… There was nothing for it, but to sit patiently and empathise, while he went into a tirade. Finally, I asked the lady, “Can I go now?” My supervisor closed the case.
Charity has the amazing capacity to turn everything on its head and reward the giver in the most unexpected ways. We all know the pleasant warm feeling when someone thanks us from the bottom of their heart. But there are so many other ways. A seed is dropped, takes root, and grows into something out of all proportion.
It was through Age Concern that we discovered the means to make ends meet. I learned about Attendance Allowance, and helped clients complete the complicated forms. Then my supervisor suggested that Roy might qualify for the benefit, and why didn’t we try? He did! And I became his carer.
My caring activities have expanded, now that Roy is becoming increasingly frail. And our NHS keeps a professional eye and gives regular support as needed.
Never again will I undervalue the concept of giving something for nothing. You just never know what might happen.
I found another volunteering opportunity, more in keeping with my expertise in business mentoring, which I talked about in another blog: https://jbwye.com/2016/01/22/do-people-matter/
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