Believe it or not, volunteer work changed my life. The first time I volunteered I was 11 years old! Yes that young. In fact I’m glad my school (ISC) had something called Student Life Organization (SLO) which engages students in their school life to run this student led organization that acts something like a Student Affairs in a typical school.
Starting at that young age helped me overcome some personal weak points, from shyness to knowing how to interact and deal with people and responsibilities. Yet the seed it planted in me…didn’t stop there, it grew multiple folds to flourish in my university life and beyond.
From the first year of university, I just had that drive to give back to community, to serve, to grow, to meet people and so I ended up joining student societies and clubs at my university (AUB) as well as cofounding an NGO called Aie Serve among my involvement with many others that I am still involved in till this day whether as founder or Board Member or Advisor or simply as a member.
So here are some of the things I believe volunteer work gave me:
- Opened my mind to new ways of thinking about life.
- Gave me a purpose beyond my own self and my day to day life.
- Got me to meet the most inspiring people I would have never dreamed of knowing.
- Made me more friends that I could have possibly done in 50 years.
- Gave me life changing experiences and challenges that made me mature way faster than many of my colleagues and friends that were not involved in volunteer work.
- Made me feel proud about the achievements I was able to accomplish with the teams I worked with to make Lebanon a better place to live in. From improving the life of underserved children to giving back to nature through tree planting and beach cleanups to mentoring youth to training and sharing knowledge with aspiring young leaders to many many maaany more.
- Gave me opportunities to learn how to manage projects, lead teams, do strategic planning, explore my training skills, brainstorm for ideas that will make the world a better place…just to mention a few.
- Lead me to having a career in consultancy and training that I wouldn’t have if I didn’t do all the volunteer work I did, simply because a typical university life and a 8-5 job wouldn’t have given me half as much opportunities to learn, grow and meet new people.
So my recommendation to you, no matter how old you are or what your social/economic/academic/marital status is, if you’re not engaged in some volunteer work already, then get to it! You can never do too much volunteer work, the more the merrier, and trust me it just gets better with time, just make sure you join the organizations or causes that you feel passionate about or at least interested in, the rest will follow!
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Being a volunteer myself involved in leading volunteers, I get to reflect often on how things are done and how to improve.
It is without doubt that leading volunteers tends to be tricky as you’ll have to ensure motivation and commitment are high at all times. Moreover, you’ll need to take care of the feelings and aspirations of the volunteers, no matter how young or old they are.
So to make things simple, I am going to share with you 5 Dos and 5 Don’ts in managing and leading volunteers:
- Thank volunteers at every milestone, every good report, every job well done. There is no upper limit of how much you can thank them and how. It can range from a simple thank you email, a tap on the shoulder, to inviting them for a free dinner/lunch/get-away.
- Give volunteers space to make decisions and have a say in what is being done. Barely anyone likes to do donkey work or to simply follow steps given, let the volunteer role be more demanding and challenging.
- Lead by being a role model, show the way and be the first to step up for action. It takes people a very short time to realize preachers from doers.
- Follow up, follow up, follow up… oh and did I say it’s important to follow up? You wont imagine how smooth things will go if you just remind people if they missed something ,follow up on tasks to be done and make sure things are progressing as planned. If you just sit there and expect volunteers to get things done without any follow up..at least at the beginning, then you’ll be surprised.
- Be friendly, polite and respectful. Yes they may seem trivial, but so many times discussions, emails or meetings can become tense, issues urgent, stakes high…that you might lose your temper, say something mean, be a bit harsh or disrespectful. Once you do that..you know you’re going to lose some one from the team or lose their trust and respect to say the least.
- Don’t underestimate any volunteer’s abilities, knowledge, network or creativity. You’ll be surprised with how much people can do when you believe in them.
- Don’t blame or criticize volunteers publicly. Keep morale high and respect of others to each other and to yourself, if you have something negative to say…say it one-to-one.
- Don’t take all the credit. Give credit where credit belongs… if the team is doing a good job, you owe them the credit, not yourself.
- Don’t be biased for personal reasons. Give work, credit or thanks for those who are doing work…not for those you like or you’re friends with.
- Don’t keep information hidden to yourself. Sharing knowledge, experience, information, contacts ..etc. with your team is key to show them you trust them and to empower them with what they need to lead…to become self-motivated and self-managed.
I hope those few things help you out!
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The bellow article is featured on Youth Action Net Website
What began in Tunisia in December 2010 led to the mass demonstrations in Egypt starting on January 25, and now the rest of the Arab world is following. Lebanon is no exception. On February 27th, many Lebanese youth activists gathered for a demonstration against the sectarian system in Lebanon, demanding changes in both the constitution and the way daily governmental business is carried out.
This rising consciousness and refusal to succumb to the status quo is rooted in the same spirit that prompted myself and a group of friends to launch Aie Serve four years ago. Instead of staying silent, we decided to take positive action. Aie Serve is a youth-based, youth-managed, and youth-funded organization dedicated to promoting a culture of volunteerism in Lebanon. Translated from Japanese, aie (pronounced “I”) means love.
The idea for Aie Serve came during the aftermath of the 2006 July War on Lebanon and resulted from the sharp polarization of Lebanese youth along sectarian, political, and religious lines. We started brainstorming ways of tackling this issue and agreed that three basic values were missing in Lebanon: Love, Tolerance, and Respect. We espouse love for others based on who they are and not which political background or sect they are from, while promoting tolerance and respect of others’ point of views and beliefs.
Over time, we started gathering more ideas and people, organizing ourselves while focusing on serving our community and society at-large. Aie Serve evolved from a group of friends, to a group of community-service minded youth, to a team and an organization. Examples of Aie Serve volunteer activities include book and clothing donation drives, reforestation and recycling projects, and assistance to orphans and the elderly.
In the last four years, we’ve experienced exceptional growth in the number of projects we do, our members, and our outreach. The impact we see on the ground is both fulfilling and inspirational. We find volunteerism is now contagious wherever we go. What’s more – in keeping with our mission – we find that caring for others is a universal value that brings people together and bridges divides.
Those around me know quite well that I am an optimist and a hard worker and so I believe that with a vision, hard work, and true commitment a small, dedicated group can achieve great things… and the biggest proof is where Aie Serve stands to day!
Afif Tabsh is Co-founder and voluntary President of Aie Serve. In 2011, he was named one of ten finalists selected for the King Abdullah II Award for Youth Innovation and Achievement.