I got a text on Saturday night asking if I wanted to meet up with a friend for drinks. I'd text him a couple of weeks ago asking where he'd been so I was keen.
We'd sat there catching up. This friend has always been horribly social, so he'd said "hi" to just about anyone who went by. Soon enough a girl had joined the table. A backpacker from Hong Kong. We'd got to talking and I had told her a little bit about some of my volunteer efforts.
By the end of the night, when I went to shake her hand, she'd held on to my hand, smiled at me, and told me to keep up my volunteer efforts.
Rewind to last year. At the end of the year I found myself annoyed. One of the schools (not part of the project) that I'd helped had with one hand, given someone in the same building as me a thank you gift, and on the other hand, someone else from the same school had come and asked me to do a little more work for them. No thanks involved.
Fast forward to now. They're still trying to get me to things for them whether via a guilt trip or pressure from elsewhere.
I haven't done anything as a volunteer for a while now. Okay - so I work far more hours than I'm paid for, so I still consider myself to volunteer on the project to some extent. I don't go to the One Laptop Per Child meet up these days. I still trawl the New Zealand based Linux mailing lists seeing if I might be able to help with an email here and there. So okay, it's in my blood.
I want to help. I really do.
A few years ago, a friend's mother stopped volunteering. She had worked with a bunch of organisations mainly around children. When I asked her what made her stop, she'd said it was a lack of appreciation. She'd been kicked by a horse on an outing with kids while doing one of her volunteer outings and no one had shown her any real concern. They'd sent her home. No one offered to drive her home/to the hospital/local clinic.
And hey, it's very easy to take volunteers for granted. Those that do it with a passion just always seem to be there. But it's those same ones who show the most commitment time and time again who eventually give it up because the people around them just don't seem to realise that they're just not showing any sort of appreciation for that time and commitment. Think about the loss of those passionate people... Where a bottle of wine, a six pack, a card, a bit of concern... just some sort of token of appreciation would have kept them doing what they do.