Follow your heart..

Volunteering to make a difference..

Most people want to make a difference and help….Even when a child is young, and somebody falls and hurts themselves on the playground, most children are filled with this desire to assist and care for and try and make it “all ok” Even my own boys, as rough as they are, when they accidently hurt someone (usually their dad) they want to kiss and fix the injury. And so, I believe that most people are born with this intrinsic desire to assist and to help others. But there is a downside to this, sometimes as one of my mentors said “good intentions are not always enough; in fact sometimes good intentions can cause damage”

Take for example, a Good Samaritan who stops at a motor vehicle accident. The injured person has a possible spinal injury and the first thing the Samaritan does is to carry the person out (probably important if the car is burning) but even I with my limited medical knowledge know that one should first:

· Call the paramedics, emergency services

· Do “C” spine and keep the person as still as possible to prevent further injury.

It is the same with trauma support or crisis intervention in the traumatic stress field. So often, we want to help the person to “feel” better, that we fail to recognize that at times our actions may have a detrimental effect. Even volunteers, with insufficient training or incorrect training may cause more damage to the “victim”. (Of course, we have all made these mistakes ourselves)

Therefore it is vital that a person has a good understanding of what trauma is and how the traumatic incident may affect us physiologically, psychologically and interpersonally. Having said that though, here are a few tips to ensure that your “willingness” to help and make a difference causes no harm to those whom you want to help and enhances your experience of voluntary work in this field.

1. Be a part of an organization that values volunteers.

2. If you are going to volunteer at a police station where there is not organization present, ensure that you have a formal Memorandum of understanding with the station/ station commander that sets out the roles, expectations and objectives of volunteers working there.

3. Get good training and continue to go on courses.

4. Continue learning from other people in the same field and related fields

5. Have a mentor or supervisor who is more qualified than you in the same field.

6. Listen to the advice of officers; emergency personnel: take what works, discard the rest.

7. Look after yourself:

a. Self-care is vital in this field; if you are not ok, how can you help others?

b. Go for regular counselling, sort of like a doctors check-up.

c. Ensure that you have balance in your voluntary work: don’t take time away from yourself, family, hobbies etc. this is a recipe for disaster and burnout.

d. Regular on-going training and education ensures that you are not “overwhelmed” or left feeling helpless because you do not have the skills to do the work.

8. Do not step outside your boundaries!

a. Know what you may /or may not do in terms of volunteer job description.

b. Follow mental health guidelines/ regulations. You are a volunteer not a therapist or registered counsellor.

c. Know what your boundaries are.

9. Finally, have fun and enjoy what you are doing. Remember the difference you make in someone’s life just by being there.

Volunteer work, can be so invigorating and inspiring. It makes a difference in your life, and more importantly in other people’s lives too. Although Trauma Support SA is a fledgling organization, if you want to volunteer and make a difference in your community,please email me –Philip@traumasupport.org.za..

Imagine, a victim being assisted by a well trained volunteer at a police station and then referred to a reputable healthcare professional.

Imagine police officers educated about the effects of their work and willing to ask for help.

Imagine….a country recognizing that many of the problems they face are not only poverty and a lack of service delivery,

but the effects of cumulative trauma from the past twenty five years.

Just imagine!

I believe that with the right combination of people who are passionate, dedicated and well trained we can begin to achieve this, but only if we start somewhere. So I’m starting….

We can take the journey together, make mistakes together,                  and discover together but more importantly make this vision a reality,

So, wont you join me and MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

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