The Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese is run entirely on volunteer power, from the Executive Board, to the District Representatives and Chapter Leaders, to various member-initiated Committees. It is amazing what kind of things can get done when people give their time to do unpaid labour for an organization! Women already perform a lot of unpaid labour around their homes, so it is truly amazing the amount of time they are willing to give to our group. However, it makes one wonder: when we all have our own busy lives to worry about, why take the time to volunteer? I know in my role as a volunteer for AFWJ, I have learned a few things and made a few new friends, so I already knew about a couple of the benefits of volunteering, but I was surprised to learn that there are some other surprising perks.
1 - Volunteering fosters a sense of community. I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of “community” recently, so much so that I chose it as one of the upcoming Journal topics! With the pandemic forcing everyone to distance socially from their family, friends, peers and neighbours, what does it mean to belong to a community in 2021? It turns out that having the feeling that members matter to each other and to the overall group is a key part of belonging to a community. Volunteering gives you that sense by including you in more interactions with the community and giving you a role to play within it. You also end up interacting with a wider variety of community members than you might otherwise not get to know. Even though we haven’t been able to meet in person this last year, we have still been able to feel a sense of community as we interact online, and often, in our roles as volunteers.
2- Volunteering is good for your health. Social activities and interactions can combat stress, anxiety and depression. Keeping in regular contact with people helps you develop a solid support system, which helps boost your mental health. It also gives you a sense of purpose, which keeps you mentally stimulated and engaged. As an added bonus, humans are hard-wired to be helpful so we get a burst of feel-good hormones and brain activity whenever we help others. Volunteering might also help you stay physically fit, depending on the activity. Last fall there was a member-initiative Ride for Charity that had members of the AFWJ Cycling Group take part in a virtual cycling tour to raise money for two charities that are near to our hearts. Staying fit while helping others is a great way to spend time!
3 - Volunteering can help you build and practise useful skills. If you are thinking about changing careers, but don’t have the skills needed to get a job in the field you’d like to transition to, you might be able to access training opportunities through volunteering and a chance to practise those new skills. You can also network with people in that field in order to gear up for a career change (and volunteering looks good on a resume). Stepping into a volunteer role will give you experience in a new position, and you can use that experience to gauge whether or not a career in that area would be a good fit for you. However, you don’t need to be focused on your career and the skills that might benefit it, learning something new can be fun and rewarding in itself! Offering to help an organization gives you a break from your usual routine, and allows you to explore new interests and develop a new outlook on things. I know I learned a whole lot more about how our organization runs and how decisions are made while volunteering on the Board — plus I really enjoyed working on the Journal and learning about design and layout.
There are many volunteer opportunities in AFWJ. If you’re looking for leadership skills, perhaps a role on the Board would be a good fit? Perhaps you’re more interested in meeting local members, try being a Chapter leader or District Representative, or organizing a local event. If you want to meet members from all over Japan and the world, we now have many zoom events, you could offer to host or help run one. If you want to focus on a particular project, why not join one of the committees that are around? If you don’t see anyone working on a project that you think our members would like to be involved in, start it yourself and get others involved with the help of the current Board. I am sure there is a place to volunteer that would be just the right fit for you.