Lend a hand locally

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Love your neighbourhood, don’t just live in it. Spare a day for volunteer work and emerge as a more mindful citizen

 

What you’ll need
A worthy cause

 

Instructions

1. Seek out a charity, environmental action group, home for the elderly or other non pro fit in need of volunteers. Dig around online forums or community notice boards, or simply ask around.

2. Good with animals, physically strong or great in the kitchen? Play to your strengths when considering volunteering opportunities.

3. Find out if your chosen cause accepts casual volunteers or if they want a regular commitment, and ask what training you need (if any) .

4. Carve out a day to volunteer and consider doing it regularly.

Complexity

***

Case study: Sarah Reid, Friend of the Ocean
Mindful of the devastating impact of marine debris on the world’s oceans, I often collect rubbish that the tide – or thoughtless beachgoers – deposit on my local beach when I see it. But I’ve never done a dedicated beach clean-up. Given how much the ocean contributes to my own wellbeing, I figure it’s about time I put more effort into returning the favour, so I carve out a sunny afternoon to assist Natalie Woods, co-founder of Australian not-for-profit Clean Coast Collective, on a proper beach clean-up.

Natalie, who runs volunteer-led beach clean-ups around Australia, directs us to the high tide line, where most marine debris tends to end up. I don’t expect to find much, but it’s not long before we’ve filled a reusable bag with plastic straws, face wipes, cigarette butts, snack wrappers, and other plastic fragments. While it’s deflating to find so much rubbish, I’m surprised to find our mission quite relaxing.

‘It might sound a bit gross to go down to the beach to pick up rubbish, but it can actually be really cathartic,’ says Natalie. She’s not wrong. There’s something very meditative about wandering along the beach, watching hermit crabs scuttle out of my path as I scan the sand for things that shouldn’t be there. The process also forces me to reflect on the decisions I make as a consumer that can impact the ocean. It’s easy to blame irresponsible tourists – or other countries – for making a mess, but we all have a role to play in protecting the environment.

‘Every single purchase I make now, I imagine picking it up off the beach,’ says Natalie. From now on, I’ll be thinking the same way, too.

 

Pros and cons

+ Good karma

+ Reducing stress

– Rubbish-related health hazards

 

Power of altruism

Numerous studies – including a British Medical Journal report in 2016 – reveal that volunteer work has a pronounced and long-lasting positive effect on the mental well-being of the volunteer. And since stress is a trigger for a plethora of physical ailments, bodily health is likely to improve, too. Older volunteers in particular have been shown to have lower blood pressure than their non-volunteering counterparts. Altruism can also have a positive effect in other areas of life. Studies by psychology professor Elizabeth Dunn have repeatedly shown that spending cash on others makes us happier than spending it on ourselves. Next time you cheer yourself up by buying a cinnamon roll, remember you might be even happier if you pass it to the person behind you in the queue.

Reproduced with permission from Everyday Adventures, © 2018 Lonely Planet, available at shop.lonelyplanet.com/products/everyday-adventures-1

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