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Contributed by Ethiopis Tadesse

Volunteering has become a growing and popular trend among youth in Ethiopia. Students in high school and University are showing a great level of interest in the idea of volunteering and giving back to the community. Which is, obviously, great! The benefits gained from volunteering cannot be overstated. I myself have been volunteering since my early high school years and through my involvement- it has:

  • Helped me develop my confidence by affording me the opportunity to interact with many different people and expand my network;
  • Taught me how to handle big tasks that I might not have been given the responsibility to do under normal circumstances;
  • Helped me gain appreciation towards many issues happening in my community;
  • Made me feel like my impact was important and worthwhile;
  • Helped me gain many more skills that have contributed to my professional life;

These are among the few things I can say I’ve gained through volunteering.

But lately, I’ve been noticing that, with the high rate of unemployment in our country, many youths have shifted their focus more towards volunteering rather than their professional development. I see graduates still putting more time and effort into their extracurricular activities rather than getting the job they need- and putting in the necessary investment. And this is not to say that every person needs to be hired in a company, but for those that want to- there needs to be a clear distinction between activities we do to enhance our professional lives and those we do on our free time, to give back.

The life of a volunteer and that of an employee (in an office setting) is clearly different. The beauty of volunteering is that, for the most part, we do it at our convenience. We get to decide when to do it, how to do it and if at any point we want to stop the activity- it is our right and the consequences would not be as grave as if we were an employee. When we volunteer, we usually see instant results and are used to being recognized and appreciated for our efforts. But in an office setting, we cannot expect the same things. It requires us to show a good level of dedication, patience and hard work to gain the recognition we might be used to simply getting.

As volunteers, we’re used to interacting with several people in fun and engaging atmospheres, which cannot be guaranteed in an office setting. We also deal with people our own age, which is easier and more comfortable than interacting with colleagues in a formal way. With that said, I’ve noticed youth who are active volunteers- but have difficulty expressing themselves in the professional environment. Which is very worrying.

As a person who has benefited significantly from being a volunteer, I encourage youth to engage themselves in volunteering activities at the right time- which in my opinion is as a student. This exposure will allow you to gain experiences that will shape you and make you better equipped for your life ahead. After that, I believe your time should be reasonably assigned to growing your professional abilities, honing your skills, and crafting the life you want. That doesn’t mean you have to stop volunteering- it just means you should check your life priorities and future goals, and assign a reasonable amount of time and effort into those activities.

Views reflected in this article do not necessarily reflect that of HABTAM.

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