By Dante Dawes

For Youth Week, 8-14 May, we’re publishing blogs by members of the Volunteering New Zealand Youth Working Group.

The question is often asked, why volunteer? Especially as a student, why spend your time clambering round streams weeding plants, why bother collecting signatures on the street, why waste your precious few moments of freedom between study? 

You can cite quite a few benefits, from skill building to CV improvements, but in all honesty, I don’t volunteer because of anything as tangible as that. I volunteer because it helps me to hope. 

A lot of people have stopped reading the news after the last few years and I don’t blame them. All it takes is a quick glance to fill most people with some mixture of panic, dread, and absurdity. From Covid to climate change, there’s no end to the bad news stories these days, and it seems like there is nothing we can do to change that. For young people, growing up with an environmental crisis that worsens everyday, struggling to study in the midst of a pandemic, thinking about our futures as war breaks out on the other side of the globe, it can all get a bit much. 

In a world like this, we have to hold on to the things that let us believe in something better, the little bits of hope we can find along the way. For me, that’s volunteering. I’ve met so many incredible people through volunteering, passionate, driven, and above all hopeful people. From gardening in public parks, to wasted food collection in cafes, to teaching civics and the importance of voting to high school classes; I’ll often find this warm camaraderie that grows from volunteering with others. 

I once heard a story, probably from some TV show I’ve long forgotten, about a child walking along a beach, throwing starfish back into the ocean before they dry out and die. The beach is covered in these dying starfish, so the child’s parent asks “Why bother? You can’t save them all, so does it matter if one or two survive?” 

The child threw another starfish back and replied “It mattered to that one.”

I think about those starfish often when I’m volunteering. I cannot pull out all the weeds choking the native flowers, but I can help that one. I cannot collect enough recovered food to feed everyone, but I can help one or two. I cannot teach every bored Year 9 the importance of voting, but if I can interest one, that matters. 

So why volunteer? Everyone has different reasons. For some it’s the chance to learn new skills, for others it’s the CV benefits. For me, it’s hope. What will your reason be?