Volunteering the heart


9 Oct 2019
Children Serving On Cake Stall At Busy Summer Garden Fete

Many community organisations could not run without their generous volunteers, and we all have gifts we can share.

It’s 9am Thursday. The wide main street of the small bush town in northern Victoria is modestly busy. Cars are parked in the shade outside the old post office, and near the supermarket. The community bank is open for business, and Daisy’s Drop-In Café is doing a brisk trade in toasties and coffees for morning smoko.

Outside the mixed-business-newsagency next door, a trestle table has been set up, with cakes and slices carefully wrapped, jars of home-made jams and pickles, a selection of knitted goods, together with a collection of potted plants and seedlings and a patchwork cot quilt kindly donated by Mrs M Bourke for the raffle (Tickets $2 or 6 for $5).

A chat and contribution

Behind the table stand three women, making themselves busy and chatting with passers-by, most of whom stop for the time of day, and stay to buy.

The sign leaning against the front of the trestle announces that they are raising money for the local Bush Nursing Hospital, to fund new equipment.

They have it all down to a fine art. By lunchtime, it will be over and time to pack up. The cream sponges and the lemon slice will have been snapped up, and the marmalade and green tomato pickles gone to new homes. They’ll be back next month.

It’s been this way since early last century. The town is 90 minutes by road to the nearest rural hospital. And for the past 100-or-so years, this little rural community has built, equipped and staffed a Bush Nursing Hospital to serve the varied health needs of the community.

In 1900, the journey took a couple of days. Accidents in farming communities are common and often serious. Inability to access emergency medical treatment can be catastrophic. Recognising their desperate need, it was the banding together of small remote community neighbourhoods that found the wherewithal, through fundraising and donations, to attract and pay for the first doctors, then to build – often with their own hands – the first small hospitals to allow the injured to be treated, the sick to be nursed, and babies delivered by trained midwives, the pioneering Bush Nurses who staffed the little hospitals.

Volunteers to the fore

The history of health-care provision to regional and remote communities is a history of volunteers, and the Bush Nursing Hospitals today have evolved into a unique, small-scale community-centred form of local health care. The history of the hospital is the district’s history, too; a place where the sacred moments of life – birth, death, care and cure – happened.

Today, their work also includes providing care locally for the elderly. And even with government funding, the support of local volunteers remains essential.

In my city, growing up, doctors’ practices and hospitals were just there. It never occurred to me that people might actually have to generate and provide for such amenities all by themselves. Country life changed that. The first lesson of life in a country town is that if you want something to happen, you have to make it happen.

Sharing our gifts

Volunteering has taught me to pitch in, and offer my talents and time where I could. It’s a privilege to serve. Over the years, I’ve made some wonderful friends, and I have a sense of pride and connection as I see the causes I’ve helped continue and grow.

For many of us, volunteering may not be possible. Nevertheless, there is a volunteering of the heart that we can all offer, no matter how limited our circumstances.

Ignatian writer, Vinita Hampton Wright reminds us that we are all richly gifted to share our lives and bless one another. We do not have to bake cakes or attend meetings, or swing shovels to be a volunteer.

She writes:

  • You can offer the gift of experience – all you have learned by doing, and some things you’ve learned the hard way.
  • You can offer the gift of listening – whether or not you have anything to say.
  • You can offer the gift of creativity – whatever you do well and joyfully.
  • You can offer the gift of silence – when the world is crazy with noise.
  • You can offer the gift of words – when others need to hear hope and common sense.
  • You can offer the gift of your presence – when someone else needs a person close by.
  • You can offer the gift of your witness – when a story needs to be remembered and told.
  • You can offer the gift of forgiveness – when there’s no way a person can make up for what’s happened.
  • You can offer the gift of hospitality – because everyone needs to sit down to a good meal and a comfy bed.
  • You can offer the gift of laughter – because the world needs a lot of that.
  • You can offer the gift of prayer – because the world needs that
  • even more.

The world needs kindness. Here I am, Lord. Send me.

This article first appeared in Madonna magazine spring 2019 edition. Image: depositphotos.com

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