One of the great activities to engage in over the holidays is volunteering, whether you are a person of Lebanese heritage, a tourist visiting Lebanon, or you are a resident of the country.
In this article we will consider some of the many reasons for anyone to volunteer. We will then discuss the special reasons for Lebanese from abroad, tourists, and residents to volunteer.
We will also give you some tips on how to find a volunteer opportunity that is right for you and end with information about some of the organizations you might volunteer for and the volunteer opportunities they have.
Why volunteer over the holidays?
Holidays are a time to relax, have fun, and engage in adventures that take you away from your normal routine. Most likely you have more free time than usual sometime between November 15 and January 15, whether you are on vacation from your work, university, or school. There are lots of ways to fill that extra time, and one of the best is to volunteer.
The answer is very different for different people, in different stages of their lives, and in different personal circumstances. In most cases people volunteer for multiple reasons, not just one. There are some altruistic reasons that apply to most volunteering – to help others, make the world a better place, and have an impact. And there are some great personal reasons as well. Students can explore career paths, seniors can continue to use their skills, people who are lonely can make new friends, and those who feel isolated by their disabilities can demonstrate their abilities and integrate into the broader society.
Why should visiting mughtaribeen* volunteer?
If you are someone of Lebanese heritage living abroad, you might want the opportunity to get to know the village or neighborhood of your heritage better or get to know Lebanon in general better. Through volunteering, you can cross various social boundaries of age, religion and sect, and explore areas of the country you never visited before. And if you are generations away from your ancestors who emigrated from Lebanon, volunteering is a great way to reinforce your ties to the country, the culture, and the language.
How is that different for tourists?
The main difference for tourists is that they have no personal tie to the country, no specific community they are linked to, and no sense of patriotism or cultural identity. They also do not have any local identity that makes them feel more welcome in one area than another. If you are a tourist, you likely want to have an authentic cultural experience where you can get to know Lebanese in their own setting. Volunteerism is increasing worldwide and there are websites that cater to the interest of tourists in having trips abroad organized around a volunteer experience. No such programs exist in Lebanon at this time, but tourists can find their own volunteer opportunities in the country.
Other points for both mughtaribeen and tourists:
Whether you are a visiting mughtarib or a tourist, it is not easy to get beyond superficial contacts when you are driving through a new area. You may even feel uncomfortable or even fearful of the reactions of others. But if you are serving as a volunteer, you have a purpose, a reason to be there, and connections that welcome you, guide you, and connect you to others. Two other points are particularly relevant to those visiting Lebanon. One is that most of them are not traveling or staying alone.
The mughtarib generally comes to Lebanon with other family members, and often stays with family members resident in the country.
The tourist usually has family or other travel companions. In those cases, opportunities that accommodate small groups of people of different ages, genders, and abilities volunteering together can provide meaningful shared experiences that enrich their relationship as they contribute to the country. The other point to consider is that the time mughtaribeen and tourists are in Lebanon is generally quite limited, with many other things they want to do while they are in the country. If this is your situation, you may want only one or two onetime volunteer opportunities such as visiting the elderly, painting a school, planting trees, or serving a holiday meal for those in need.
Residents as Volunteers
All this is different from the situation of a resident in Lebanon (whether Lebanese or expatriot).
Most likely the resident has more time to volunteer so that more long-term volunteer opportunities may be of interest. While these may not take much time each week, a sustained commitment has greater impact and allows for interactions with more depth. Organizations will likely give you more responsibility, and have you do more interesting things when your commitment allows them to invest in placing, training, and orienting you.
You might tutor a student or mentor an orphan once or twice a week, develop a project, or take a leadership role in the organization. You also are more likely to want or need to volunteer alone so that a whole set of different volunteer opportunities is available to you. Are you convinced to try? If so, then here are some tips for choosing the right volunteer opportunity for you:
1) Do a personal assessment of your interests, abilities, and personal objectives in volunteering, when you are available, and how far you can travel to volunteer.
2) Check out the available volunteer opportunities.
While we have featured some organizations and their opportunities here, we have certainly not exhausted the possibilities. You can contact your municipality– many now have their own websites, or get the phone number of the head of the municipal council at www.interior.gov.lb/Dalil.aspx (info in Arabic only). Another good source is the Civil Society Directory at http://daleel-madani.org/.
3) Once you have found an organization or other agency to volunteer for, make the contact, express your interest in volunteering, and explore with them what opportunities they have that fit your personal assessment. And if you have special skills or talents you can offer, be sure to let them know.
4) You also might get together with relatives and friends and create your own volunteer opportunity.
5) When you do finally volunteer, be sure to show everyone that you really CARE – that you are Capable, Available, Reliable, and Engaged.
If you do volunteer over the holidays, we’d love to learn about your experience and, with your permission, share it with others online. Please send me your story at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*The word mughtarib (plural mughtaribeen) refers here to Lebanese and those of Lebanese heritage living abroad.