I have started volunteering as a story teller at my daughters school. Many will respond that I have made a career of storytelling so that seems appropriate! Of course, like every good story, there’s more to this than first meets the eye. What I am doing is reading short stories to groups of pupils, so the stories I am telling are not mine and that’s part of the reason I am doing this.
The school identified a number of barriers to encouraging pupils to see reading as a thing to enjoy rather than simply something to do because the teacher says you have to. So they asked for men (because in addition, they identified a lack of male role models in many of the children’s lives) to come in and read stories to the children with no purpose save to enjoy the experience. This is about the sheer pleasure of reading for its own sake. Of course, there are real positive educational and emotional outcomes from those experiences but for the school the key focus was the discovery of reading for pleasure.
I read the same story to three groups in quick succession. It’s fascinating how my own entry into the world of each story grows with each reading. For the children, the experience of being read to brings a time of stillness and listening and so they enter the story differently as well. It’s a very calming experience for me and for them too, at least from the feedback they have given the teachers.
It is only an hour once every 6 or 8 weeks but already I am looking forward to resuming it after the holidays. I leave the school feeling a real sense of connectedness to the pupils and to the characters in the stories and with a sense of calm which I savour all day but which, in truth I never expected to feel. It’s very precious indeed.
Last year over 1000 lovely people volunteered for Cyrenians, gifting us over 90,000 hours of their time. They made a massive difference not just to the organisation but most importantly to those we journey with and we are very grateful for their generosity.
Some of them are those we journey with and the volunteering was itself part of their journey. Others it was just one day or even a few hours. And others it was retirement, giving back, honing skills and much more. If we had 1000 plus volunteers we probably have 1000 plus reasons for volunteering. Feedback from many of those volunteers are similar however, that, like me, they had a sense of receiving more than they gave, that the experience enhanced their own wellbeing, connectedness and sense of belong to the communities of which they are part.
This is not news. It’s been a reality for as long as there have been volunteers. I believe it’s because at heart we are connected beings. Our deepest sense of self is nurtured and fed by our connection with others, those we know and those who are, at first, strangers. We are not, in my view, autonomous beings but we flourish in our relationships. The more we are able to be in positive relationship with others, the more we can be truly ourselves. Volunteering is a place where those positive relationships can be discovered and made real. Volunteering is not just about doing good for others, but to ourselves as well. The transformation volunteering brings is to everyone involved. Volunteering, at its most profound level, changes not just lives, but the world.
29 June 2017