In praise of volunteers

The simple act of volunteering one's services to help another individual is generally considered an altruistic activity, one intended to promote goodness or improve the quality of life of others.

In return, acts of volunteering can produce feelings of self-worth and respect.

There is no financial gain involved for the individual. By definition, volunteering is helping, assisting, or serving another person or persons without pay.

Many volunteers are specifically trained in the areas in which they work, such as medicine, education, or emergency rescue.

Others serve on an as-needed basis, such as in response to a natural disaster.

In the past two weeks, thousands of people in Otago have stepped up to volunteer their services as the region has been hit by a series of natural disasters which have caused suffering for some.

First, it was heavy falls of snow that isolated some communities throughout the region.

Then came the magnitude-4.7 earthquake, centred just northeast of Lee Stream and 30km west of Dunedin, that rocked Otago.

Finally, torrential rain for 24 hours flooded communities, closed streets and caused upset to many people living in suburbs around the city.

It will take a few more days until the full scale of damage from the latter is revealed, but early indications are not good.

As reported in this newspaper, no parts of Dunedin were left untouched by the unrelenting rain this week which broke records stretching back many years.

In the centre of the storm, professional rescue staff and volunteers alike rolled up their sleeves and did what had to be done, from rescuing neighbours through to filling sandbags to help prevent damage to houses and businesses becoming even worse.

Times of disaster are when the Kiwi spirit comes to the fore.

Around the country, there are unsung heroes prepared to do what it takes to ease the plight of others.

In Dunedin this week, firefighters were rushed off their feet responding to flooding callouts from distressed residents.

The callouts included pumping water and evacuating residents and, on many occasions, there was little firefighters could do except give people reassurance and advice.

Often, there was nowhere to pump the excess water.

Young men Adam Pearce and Josh Hastie used a small fibreglass dingy to evacuate about 10 elderly residents from flooded homes in low-lying parts of Mosgiel.

Another Mosgiel resident, Mark Hastie, towed submerged vehicles free of the water during the night.

St John was also busy evacuating residents from a rest-home as floodwaters lapped at the door.

Via social media, and throughout the night, people offered comfort and care and also food and accommodation.

This is admirable, but it should be remembered that in a time of crisis, sometimes the best approach to find out the needs of people in distress is to meet them face-to-face.

Changes to society mean, sadly, fewer people know their neighbours and the circumstances in which they find themselves.

Families are often split because children leave a city to find work elsewhere, leaving older people to their own resources.

Sometimes, knowing there is someone to turn to in times of need is reassurance enough to continue living a full and meaningful life.

Pressure of work and family duties can restrict the amount of time people can put back into the community.

The closure or mergers of community groups and organisations, such as scouts, sports clubs and service clubs, is indicative of a changing society.

However, any time spent becoming known to your neighbours, in volunteering your expertise to the community, in becoming more involved generally, usually provides rewards far in excess of the effort required.

Volunteers of all kinds play an integral part in knitting communities together, and in times of extreme need they can be hugely beneficial in helping people deal with the aftermath of various events.

We owe it to ourselves and others to make the effort, and to congratulate and thank those already doing so.

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