How the volunteer’s path starts, who can do it, what bonuses can an ordinary volunteer get and why it is important for everyone today. Julia Gorovikova, Head of the Volunteer Unit of UNIHELP International Charitable Public Association will tell about this and many other things in a heartfelt conversation.
Julia, can you tell us how long you are doing charity work? At what point you realised that this was becoming an important part of your life?
I have been doing charity for 20 years. Of course, like many other people, I have not immediately come to the conclusion that this was mine. Even when I was just a student, I decided to try myself as a volunteer. Once in Minsk there was a youth group of active young people at one church, willing to help children. We used to get together, went to children’s camps and staged various performances, played concerts, sang and danced – we did all this absolutely free of charge, and staged the shows on our own. For us, the main goal was to make a holiday to children! My volunteer’s path began from these tours. Over time, I wanted to do more than just dances and songs. Then I created my own independent volunteer movement “From Heart to Heart”. We began to tour hospitals, orphanages and in addition to concert programs, which we also staged on our own, we were already helping financially. We began to conduct charity events in the shopping centres of Minsk to collect the necessities: soap, shampoos, socks, panty-hose, toys, sweets. It could seem a trifle, but for children who live in boarding schools this was important.
Tell us about charitable project “From Heart to Heart”, created by you? What aid does your social project render?
The project has existed for seven years, it is ongoing today. Everything started in a simple way: I and a few other guys expressed a desire to help. So it all started. At the moment, we have 20 volunteers. Now we are helping several institutions at once. We help children with cancer, children who are in auxiliary boarding schools, who are treated and rehabilitated in hospitals and hospices, as well as the adults who live in the so-called nursing homes. If possible, we always visit everyone, we try to do this at least once every six months. But children and adults need not only gifts, but also our attention. Children always rejoice not because of new things, but simply because we come. Our attention is the best gift for them.
How long have you been cooperating with UNIHELP? How did it all start?
I have started working quite recently, since the beginning of this summer. There was a vacancy for the supervisor of volunteers, so I decided to take an interview. I have been working with volunteers for a long time, have accumulated some experience, so I was admitted as UNIHELP member. They immediately supported my idea of trainings for volunteers. From my own experience I know that people who want to become volunteers may have a desire, but do not know where to start, and at such trainings there is an opportunity to show and tell how to do it right. We also work on motivation at the training, which plays a great role. I believe that the volunteer’s work needs to be approached qualitatively and even professionally, I should say.
There is a lot of work, and volunteers make a great contribution to this cause. Is it difficult now to find new people who would share your views, and first of all, where such people are most often found?
I would say that it is not difficult to find such people. In fact, a lot of people express a great desire and strive to become a volunteer, but everyone imagines this business in their own way. Here the problem is not to find, but rather to make the person get interested in continuing to do this. Many people understand that this is “not mine” after having tried. For some of them this is hard morally, for others it will be hard physically. Many just have a different idea of volunteers. Everyone has a desire, but not everyone has the strength to withstand it. There were cases when we came to the orphanage to visit children, and afterwards some volunteers said that they would not cope with such emotional stress. And this is normal, not everyone is coping, and still there are those people who are ready for this. It is also important to understand that this is not the time for games and fun, that this is the same job as any other, only here you are at your own will.
On the Internet, they were pleasantly surprised and even touched by the description of situation with an old woman, who approached the stand and handed out a “piece of soap for the kids,” adding that she would have given more if she could. How often do people offer such material aid?
That time we collected gifts in one of the shopping centres in Minsk within social project “Heart to Heart” and we were just collecting necessities for children. I remember well that old woman. She stood aside for a long time, not daring to come up. At first I thought that she would ask us for help, because that also happens. But I was pleasantly surprised that she herself wanted to help, even if it was a small thing. This woman was an elderly one and poorly dressed, but she still approached, gave this piece of soap saying: “Give it to children.” It was very touching.
At the trainings you said that volunteers can face difficulties, that someone may molest or start insulting. This happens extremely rare, but, perhaps, you remember such cases? And how one should act in such situations?
These are real-life situations. During the action, there may be cases when someone simply can insult, thinking that we are engaged in a fraud. This should not hurt, I always tell everyone – smile in return. Perhaps a person is in a bad mood and he does not want to talk now. Moreover, you may not insult a person in return, this will be ill-mannered on your part. There was a case when a person insulted a volunteer, called derogatory words, and then returned and apologized, realizing that he had been wrong. Such things also happen!
And still joyful events are much more. Tell us the most joyous volunteer’s day of your life.
For me, every such day remains bright and warm in my memory. Most of all I am happy when the whole family participates in the action. I remember at one of the charity events a large family approached our UNIHELP stand: mother, father and four children. I thought, now they will stand up a bit and leave, because families with many children do not live easily either. But Dad took money out of his pocket and gave each child a coin, so that everyone could throw this coin into a box for collecting money. It was very pleasant when the mother explained in plain language to her daughter that it was right to do so and one should not stand off. I am sure that when such children grow up, they will never be selfish.
Can anyone become a volunteer? Are there any criteria, dress code? Is it easy to become a volunteer?
“Everyone can become one, but not everyone endures this path. A person should understand that this is a voluntary, free work. We are ready to accept anyone, we do not have any criteria. Dress code is absent either,” adds Julia with a smile. “We put on white shirts at the actions so that it was easy to recognize us. But I can not say that being a volunteer is easy. In addition to desire, you need an understanding that you are ready to spend your free time on such unpaid work. It will be hard for someone, but for others a good deed will bring joy. Volunteers always thank each other for their work in the team. This is a team work that brings only positive emotions, but these emotions need strength.”
Are there any bonuses for volunteers, other than a good mood and a feeling that you make this world better?
When I was studying in America, I noticed that when you prepare a CV to apply for a job, the questionnaire will necessarily include a question about volunteering. I was surprised and asked the employer whether this was really important, for which I received a firm positive answer.
We can issue a certificate that you are a volunteer. In Europe, such certificates can be attached to your CV, when you apply for a job, and it will not pass unnoticed.
In addition, we write letters of gratitude to schools and universities. I remember having written a letter of thanks to the girls from the medical college who had regularly taken part in the actions. Later they came and shared a pleasant news that they had been raised their maintenance allowance. We shall not leave out a single volunteer who really helps us, we can write an honorary mention and award a certificate.
In a friendly large volunteer family there are young children, youth and older people. What age category more often joins the ranks of volunteers?
Most often young people, students come. As a rule, these people have more free time than a person who has a permanent work. There are also a lot of family people in our team. We are very much pleased when people participate in the actions as a whole family. It has become a good tradition when mother and father take their children with them. There are elderly people, they can not always participate owing to their age, but we are glad when they have such an opportunity.
How much time do your volunteers spend in actions?
Typically, volunteers spend two or three hours for an action. There are those who are ready to stand the whole day, this is six hours. During this time each volunteer actively tells other people approaching the stand, that this is a fundraising for the persons under UNIHELP care, and everyone can participate in it. As a rule, a considerable quantity of such unindifferent people is gathered at a stand, therefore there is no time to catch flies. It is up to everyone how much time to spend on this. I can call the heroes everybody who come and voluntarily give their free time and energy.
Do volunteers often gather during off hours to just have a good time in a pleasant company?
We have got a recent tradition to gather in an informal setting in a cafe or anticafe. We call it simply – volunteer meetings. And I also prepare for such meetings, as well as for trainings, so that everyone can not simply get together, not knowing what to do with each other, but have fun and spend this time profitably. In our last meeting we teamed up and painted our city of volunteers. I want to note, when you spend time in a team, it is very cheerful and it brings people together. The meeting was very interesting and has been remembered for long. Everyone was delighted!
When you understand that actions bring results, change the fate of just one person for the better, is it possible to describe those emotions that you are experiencing?
It is not possible to describe that storm of emotions that you experience, you can not convey it in words. You are in the state when you understand what you are living for. It is a joy for yourself and for the people you really helped. When you do a good deed, you immediately begin to feel this life. It is impossible to come to the orphanage without emotions. Children rush to you, embrace, rejoice, they know that on this day they are paid full attention, which they need so much. Your heart always rejoices when a light of happiness burns in children’s eyes, just because you have come and now you are nearby. This is a great joy, which can be compared with a victory in life. It is worth trying for the sake of these emotions, and you always want to do more than you have already done.
Many readers will be interested, if you have any earnings from charitable actions?
My project “Heart to Heart” is completely a volunteer one. We do not set a task of earning or deriving any other benefit. All the people who participate in this project are completely volunteers on a voluntary basis. Our main goal is to help people who need it.
Have you got any vast schemes for the near future related to volunteering? Would you share them?
Yes, there are ideas. One of them is not just to help children, but also to see them regularly afterwards. It will also help to find out what they need, how they feel. Children from the orphanage need communication very much, they will always be happy if they are visited. Volunteers can help in this. That would be very cool.
Of course, I would like to help everyone, to cure all children. It is more correct to say: the more volunteers we have, the more lives we will save. You should not think that you can not help everyone, you can not live with such an approach to life. You can start small things and move on higher. I believe that the GOOD must be loud! They write little about this on the Internet, this topic always remains in the background, and it should not be so. The more people know about this, the greater is the chance that the world will become better.