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What difference does volunteering make?
16 August 2005
by Charlotte Alfred

When global events amaze, challenge and anger us it sometimes feels that we are just reactors to success or crisis. That we thrash out the problems of poverty, third world debt and global conflict, try to keep informed, and live and work as ethically as we can, but global events keep ebbing and flowing above our heads, out of our control.

The current surge of interest and support in the Make Poverty History movement is an incredibly visible signal to Western leaders and people all over the world. Development issues are no longer marginal politically or the sole concern of specialist groups. Live 8, events in Edinburgh surrounding the G8 (including the MPH march, attended by DiA, stories and pictures to come soon) and Brad Pitt clicking his fingers, all fill the news and engage the tabloids, dinner parties and political meetings in lively debate.

So, what can one person do? At this time that the development agenda is at the forefront, the opportunities are great for individuals to stick their heads out and make some sort of impact. But what if Edinburgh was too expensive, your charity band has snapped (for the third time) and Bob Geldof starts to irritate? Really the greatest way to make an impact, as Sinatra said, is to do it your way. The articles in this edition (Summer 2005) inspired me by their sheer creativity.

Ruth Bergan and Elinor Wakefield embarked on the incredible and perhaps slightly crazy mission of cycling from Birmingham to Bradford to raise money for DiA.

Meanwhile, Steve Roberts spent a week living in the woods, accompanied by only the bare essentials. Simultaneously raising awareness and money, and accumulating many adventures along the way, Steve really demonstrated no only what, but how much one person can do.

While volunteering in India with DiA, that same question continuously rang in my ears. What was I doing in a development organization in India? Would it make any difference to anything, or was I just kidding myself? I began to see that the really valuable product of my volunteering experience was everything I absorbed from such a seething, vibrant, moving country and the organization that I worked in, with each daily minute miracle they performed. This was something that I could use to fuel and inform a lifelong commitment to global issues. Mandarin Bennet examines the volunteering experience in the light of the ‘gap year’ culture. Her insights are central to what Development in Action is trying to achieve.

Tom Wilmot, who volunteered at the Barli Development Institute for Rural Women in Indore last autumn, writes of the man who helped to found the Institute, and his intriguing life’s journey from Irish farms to rural India. Not geographical, social or linguistic barriers could keep Jimmy from making his convictions a reality. Elizabeth Horsefield returned to Sewa Mandir, the deaf and blind school where she had been a volunteer three years earlier. She captures that feeling when you leave a place, hardly believing that life continues and evolves without you. She leaves reaffirmed of the impact of the volunteer experience.

Whether volunteering overseas, or making an impact in a unique way in the UK, the answer to what one can do seems to be bright and varied. As an individual we all have a responsibility and we all have the opportunity, to be part of the global community, not just in theory, but through development in action.