Through my work as a representative for IHAN (International Health Awareness Network), I was gifted the opportunity to speak in a forum at the 64th Annual United Nations DPI/NGO Conference in Bonn, Germany in response to volunteerism. It was a remarkable experience to be surrounded by the many souls from around the world uniting in a common cause -- this blazed into other pieces of my life. In my attempt to continue sharing that gift, I offer the speech...
Awakening the volunteer spirit. How do we do that? So many of us in this room already feel that, have that, and are actively responding to it. We are advocating, bringing awareness, finding resources, creating opportunity, finding solutions… and all for the betterment of humankind, our societies and our planet. But what motivated that in you from the start? Do you remember specifically? Could you articulate it to someone in such a way that would awaken it in them? How do we open ourselves up beyond this common language of volunteerism that we in this room all know and reach those that don’t understand what it means or feels like to give in such a way? Who maybe weren’t given the tools or the guidance through family, education, or experience to understand this role?
In this brief summary of such a large topic, I will stir my pot and attempt to reduce the sauce down to these two potent ingredients – passion and action.
As a performing artist, I approach my volunteer work with the same passion as I do my craft - because it comes from the same place inside of me. If you were to ask me what my greatest passion in life was, I would emphatically tell you, “the human condition & how we relate” – that’s what drives me to be an actress, motivates me in my life and my work. But what then do I do with that as a volunteer? How do I activate my passion beyond myself?
Professional actors, are at heart, behaviorist, because we are driven to understand what feeds and satiates us as humans. We seek out the actions of the character because we have the fundamental understanding that people are actions. We DO. And our passion drives our doing – our actions. For better or for worse. We listen…..and we respond. It is simple cause and effect. We see a need, we work to fill it. We hear a cry, we answer it. To take action without understanding the need, to hear the need and not take action is careless and dangerous. It is irresponsible to acknowledge one and not the other, they are interconnected and should be respected as a whole.
After all, there are no pauses in life. We live adjacent moment to adjacent moment – in relation to each other and our environment. And what we do or don’t do….does, in fact, matter.
Those actions grow out of the roots of our passions. Passion. What drives us? What motivates us in our lives and in our volunteer work? To do what needs to be done and create without expectation of monetary or material return. Because whatever that is, is what sustains us. And sustainable societies must in part start with sustainable volunteers. How do we help each other adapt this way of giving as a part of our lives so that it becomes much like a basic human need? Balanced and integrated into our everyday?
As artists, we call it "the hook," It's something you have grabbed onto that pulls you forward from the gut and can't always be articulated clearly. It's a visceral response rooted not only in the depths of our greatest love, but our greatest pain. And that – creates a need.
The “I have to do this” feeling. The hook is powerful and yet not always monstrous. It is sometimes as simple as “I wanted to meet amazing people, I wanted to travel, it felt great to help, it’s for a good cause, it made me feel closer to my nephew, it’s something my grandmother would have done.” Because part of that sustainability and balance comes from that need to connect. With each other, with our environment, our planet. This is an essential part of our humanity. Our humanness.
And because we are humans, we are constantly growing and changing. And so do our hooks. What once held your attention and passion so strongly before, might not be working for you two years down the road – when that road becomes treacherous, worn, tethered, full of pot holes because the funds are running out, resources are low, governments are not behaving themselves, unexpected “life” happens. And there you are. Still doing, without expectation of something monetary or material in return. That…is the critical point when your hook needs to be rekindled, revitalized. It needs to breathe and be allowed to grow with you. It needs to be remembered and given a chance to lead you to new places of giving. My hook got a booster shot yesterday morning when I heard Vandana Shiva & many of the other panelists speak. The inspiration and power of this conference surged in me.
But to those that are not already volunteers. How do we reach out to all ages, especially the young, to create a sense of volunteerism beyond incentives? To carry it and sustain throughout a lifetime?
To that I say, "Go to the sauce!" Appeal to their passions and let them take action.
Whether that passion that “brings them to life” is poetry, medicine, art, physics, languages, mathematics, the environment, or dance. When they explore their hooks, the world of how to volunteer opens up and they are more likely to seek it out, ask the questions themselves, and find how to satiate this newly found hunger.
it will pull them forward from the gut. that awakened volunteer spirit. and the intentions of their will can begin to equal the intentions of their heart.
My volunteer spirit was awakened through theater – my passion. The need to connect, reach out, understand, communicate, collaborate with humility, help & educate others, all came about through my work on stage and film. Because I learned through my commitment and experience, that those components are what it takes to create a successful production.
It rooted me into action to seek out a new balance in my life and led me to my volunteer path with the incredible, noble work of the International Health Awareness Network, where thanks to Dr. Roshan, I have been afforded the opportunity to expand my knowledge of the world and how I can impact it…and my soul is ever grateful. It also refueled my work in theater offstage when I joined the Board of Directors for Children’s Theatre Company, where we begin nourishing this sense of volunteer spirit in children as young as five years of age.
So, my final thoughts to you, at this conference, in my dedication to commit, encourage, volunteer are this: