These are challenging times to be an optimist. There is growing alarm in the face of climate change. We are witnessing daily attacks on liberal democracy. Public discourse increasingly amplifies messages of anger and division.
As these threats become overwhelming, we run the risk of despair taking hold of our collective consciousness. We are left asking: what we can do in response?
A game-changing response is to engage in our communities and the world by volunteering our skills and experience to advance human rights. History – including our own experience in Canada – is filled with examples of ordinary people banding together to improve lives. By volunteering together, we can ensure that tangible action prevents despair from taking root.
December 5th is International Volunteer Day — not widely celebrated or acknowledged, but it should be.
The United Nations states, “volunteerism benefits both society at large and the individual volunteer by strengthening trust, solidarity and reciprocity among citizens, and by purposefully creating opportunities for participation.”
Volunteering contributes to social cohesion, providing all of us with tangible opportunities to be part of the solution to problems that we face.
I know firsthand the act of volunteering can be as meaningful to those giving as receiving.
A dear friend and colleague, the late Randy Pepper, was a leading litigator who found purpose and belonging through volunteering. Randy first volunteered with Crossroads International, a Canadian-based global human rights organization. His overseas experience in Lesotho changed his world view and gave him higher purpose. It was the beginning of a lifelong engagement with international development.
WE NEED PASSIONATE PEOPLE
Randy’s passion for volunteering was infectious. He inspired countless people around him to take action – myself included. For more than a decade, I have volunteered with Give a Day, a campaign that encourages donations of a day’s pay to the Stephen Lewis Foundation in support communities in sub-Saharan Africa affected by HIV/AIDS. The premise is that we can all give of ourselves for a day to bring about positive change.
When we combine our efforts and work together, the sum of people’s contributions can be enormous. Consider the incalculable impact that volunteers, doctors, activist grandmothers and women’s rights champions around the globe have had on the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Volunteering brings us into community with people whose experiences differ from our own, deepening our understanding and fostering dialogue.
Supporting organizations like the Stephen Lewis Foundation and Crossroads International gives us a tangible way to act; it gives us opportunities to support the growth and resilience of local communities, whether these communities be in our backyards or on the other side of the world.
This Volunteer Day, I am helping to launch a fund at Crossroads in memory of Randy Pepper that will help to continue his passion for volunteerism.
As Randy taught me, through volunteering, we have the power to make the world a better place and turn despair into hope.
I encourage you to give it a try.