I start to feel uncomfortable when I’m not giving something back to others. When I was working full time, I would give money. Every month, cash would automatically be transferred to my chosen charity. I’d always purchase Christmas cards from the charity shop. I’d put money in the Salvos tin or buy daffodils. If there was a disaster I’d automatically give money. Once I stopped working full time to have children, start a freelance business and purchase a home (and a mortgage) we discovered that there no longer was “spare money”. In fact, over the past couple of years there’s been times we haven’t even had grocery money. My upbringing comes in handy during the lean times.
But with the dwindling cash flow has come a sense of guilt. We may find ourself struggling at times, but we still have a nice house, in a good neighbourhood. We can cloth and feed our much-indulged children. We have two cars and an old caravan. We’ve gone on holidays and have managed to do some upgrades around our home. We are not on the poverty line, nor are we living beyond our means. We have just had times when we’ve not been sure if we’d be able to pay our mortgage or buy groceries. We’ve negotiated about one billion payment plans to pay our ever-mounting tax debt. I’ve become acutely aware how quickly life can change for some. How quickly you can have nothing.
All the while though I’ve been guilt-ridden. No longer can we afford to contribute regularly to charities. And even once-off payments have become tricky without much planning. So instead, over the past few years, I’ve donated my time. Not enough of it though because when we had three kids under three-and-a-half, time was very scarce. But I gave it a good nudge. For about a year, after giving birth to my first child and then became pregnant with my second child, I volunteered at an organisation which ran a school for “at risk” teen mums. I would work in the creche, wiping snotty noses, reading books, doing craft and the like. Once my second child was born I stopped and it was another baby and a couple of years until I emerged again from the fog.
So, last year I contacted the Smith Family. I wanted to give my time again and needed something I could do from anywhere. I discovered i-track online mentoring and I jumped at the opportunity. The program is aimed at connecting disadvantaged youth with mentors to provide students with career advice, encouragement and support. It runs for about three months and you chat online for one hour per week. It is all strictly monitored and you never meet the student face-to-face nor divulge contact information to each other.
I was teamed with a young woman who was kind, determined, resilient, sweet and had big dreams for herself. We talked about a whole range of topics – from sport, school, family life, travel hopes and career aspirations. Each week I looked forward to our conversations with a mixture of trepidation, uncertainty, immense responsibility and excitement. She taught me a lot about myself, about how to be a better mentor and listener. I just wanted her to know that she could do anything she put her mind to. I wanted her to grab hold of the world and experience life. To start with small things (like visiting an art gallery) to dreaming big. She told me I taught her she doesn’t need to stick to one thing that she could try a lot of different things. I really hope her world opens up for her and she has a chance to explore all the places she dreams of.
I’ll never know how her life pans out.
On our last chat we said our goodbyes and wished each other well. I closed my computer and I sobbed.
You might not have the money to put into a charity tin. You might not even have a lot of time to give, but there’s always something you can do to help someone less fortunate than yourself. It’s the best gift you can give and believe me it’s the best gift you can give yourself.
Now I need to work out what to do next year. I’d like to give more of my time. Any ideas?