Tonight I was chuffed to bits to have been able to welcome the latest intake of young international Scout volunteers to their staff induction training, being held in beautiful, but very chilly, Oxfordshire.
They’ve funded their own travel and expensive visa applications; they’re putting their normal lives on hold for between nine months and a year; they’re ready to commit their time and their talent to serving others.
Soon they’ll be heading off around the country to volunteer at Scout Adventures’ national centres – helping to change thousands of young people’s lives for the better.
Of course, they too will benefit from the experience. Their horizons will broaden; they’ll learn new skills; they’ll form friendships that will last for the rest of their lives.
But they’ve made a commitment that is very, very special. So, not only did I welcome them, but I thanked them too.
As I drove home from Youlbury Scout Centre tonight, I reflected on just how important volunteering has been in my own life. It started with the Service section of my Bronze Duke of Edinburgh’s Award when I was fourteen and I haven’t really had a year since when I haven’t volunteered – within the Award, Scouting, community theatre, social activism, in refugee camps and school halls, as a member of a choir, as a solitary befriender. Volunteering defines me, as it does my closest friends.
It has given me so much; taken me to so many places; allowed me to meet so many different and amazing people. I cannot imagine not volunteering.
Shakespeare wrote, ““The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”
I’m not sure yet what my gift is. I’ll keep searching for it. But I hope these young people discover their gifts over the next few months – and find great joy in giving them away.