"What I’ve learned": Part 3 insights from volunteers

Whilst we can talk and write a lot about how to manage volunteers, and what volunteers can gain from volunteering, there is nothing as insightful as first-hand accounts.  With this in mind, we tracked down three volunteers, all from different backgrounds with diverse volunteering experiences, in order to find out how they’ve experience volunteering and what they’ve learned.

In this three part series, we have previously met Tawanda Dhliwayo, a Johannesburg-based PR executive and Lourie Pieterse, a student at Stellenbosch University who have shared their volunteering insights.  Now in part 3 we connect with Kelsey Wiens, a Canadian based in Cape Town who has volunteered both in South Africa and abroad.   Read more ...

“I think volunteering is a great way to make new friends, build networks and learn a new skill.   But volunteering is not without its challenges, and creating a work-life-volunteer balance can be an ongoing struggle.” – Kelsey Wiens

Kelsey Wiens is a Canadian living in South Africa, who calls herself ‘librarian and web geek’.   She says that one of the things that make her proudly Canadian is the unifying national trait of doing things 'for the common good'.   

Kelsey, what made you become involved in volunteering?

My first introduction to volunteerism was back in 2007. I was introduced to a group of cyclists who were cycling from my hometown of Calgary, Canada, to Austin in the United States, in support of cancer treatment and specifically the recovery from cancer.   It was to be a 4,000 km journey on bicycles.   I had never really cycled before, but, because my mom was going through her own cancer battle, and I was looking for a change in life, I was completely swept up in the movement, the people and the cause.   It was truly a life-changing experience. Now I'm a passionate cyclist and although my mom had a relapse, she has been cancer free for two years.  

Where do you currently volunteer?

After moving to South Africa in 2010, I set about building my network through volunteering. Now I volunteer for Creative Commons (CC) South Africa, an organisation dedicated to sharing online knowledge and content. Specifically CC is a legal licence which offers a flexible range of protections and freedoms for authors, artists, and educators.  My interest in CC comes from years of being a librarian, being a serious web geek, and ultimately about sharing nicely. 

How often do you volunteer?

Because CC is part of my job - along with working in the 'open access' environment - as a researcher at the University of Cape Town (UCT), I find myself constantly 'working' for them. Creative Commons is built on a large volunteer base, with everyone donating their time and energy.  For me there is never really any down time, and I spend a great deal of time replying to email, organising events, talking and nudging people to apply open licences to their work. It's a labour of love and also a big part of my job, so my work and volunteer world very much overlap. 

How has volunteering enriched your life?

Volunteering for CC has introduced me to an entirely new world of artists, activists and everyday people just trying to make a difference.   Through my work as a volunteer I've been able to travel to conferences and meet up with other Open Access geeks.   I learn something new just about every day.  

I think volunteering is a great way to make new friends, networks, learn a new skill. But volunteering is not without its challenges. Creating a work-life-volunteer balance is an ongoing struggle.

Do you find there are any challenges to volunteering?

When I am passionate about a cause it's very difficult not to let it take over my entire life. Boundaries are very important to set up for yourself when volunteering. Occasionally, personality conflicts can arise, as volunteering for some can be more about ego than the cause.  It's important to pick the right cause, project and people for you. 

Volunteering for CC continues to inspire me, and I see the work we do creating a real change in the world and in South Africa. Find a project or cause that inspires you and make a difference today. 

Thank you, Kelsey.  All the best with CC; we would love to hear some of the stories about your travels through volunteering and how these have impacted your life.  We’ll be talking to you again soon.

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