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Volunteering a great way to meet new people Finding sense of fulfilment in voluntary work

“I LEARNED to give not because I have much but because I know exactly how it feels to have nothing,” goes the famous adage that has inspired some individuals to devote their time to charity work. As expatriates with busy lives, it can be hard to find time to volunteer. However, the benefits of volunteering are enormous to you, your family, and your community. The right match can help you find friends, reach out to the community, learn new skills, and even advance your career. Volunteering can also help protect your mental and physical health. 

One of the better-known benefits of volunteering is the impact on the community. Unpaid volunteers are often the glue that holds a community together. Volunteering allows you to connect to your community and make it a better place. However, volunteering is a two-way street, and it can benefit you and your family as much as the cause you choose to help. Dedicating your time as a volunteer helps you make new friends, expand your network, and boost your social skills.
Farida Al Halimi, a former household service worker who rose from the ranks and now owns a big salon in Kuwait, a volunteer at the Al Sidra Association for Psychological Care of Cancer Patients at the Kuwait Cancer Control Centre (KCCC) and a member of the Kuwait Filipino Mothers Organization, in this interview provides an overview on how an expat can embark on charity work, tips on getting started as a volunteer and outlines the many benefits of volunteering.
Question: What inspired you to do charity work and when did you start volunteering?
Answer: You know, I was born to a poor family in the Philippines. I’m the youngest and my mom died while giving birth to me and my twin sister who unfortunately died also at birth. Life was tough when I was growing up. I didn’t even finish high school. I got married early and had two kids but got separated due to physical abuse. In 1989, I left for Bahrain and worked as a household service worker, then in 1991 I moved to Kuwait but I had to escape from my abusive employer. I was jailed and sent back to my agency until I was assigned to an employer who owned a salon and it’s where my new life started. After learning all the skills from the salon and saving up for eight years, I put up my own salon and it was then that my advocacy to help others especially women started.
Q: Why did you decide to focus your charity work on women?
A: As I have mentioned to you earlier, I was a battered wife and I’m not ashamed of my past. Your dark past must not hold you from moving forward and from having a better and brighter life. I want to share and inspire women out there who have gone through the same experience or undergoing the same thing right now that we have the power to change our present circumstances.  All it takes is willpower. No one can hurt you if you don’t allow them to hurt you and there are always people around you who will be ready to help you and I want to be around when someone needs a hand.
Q: What are the basic requirements when it comes to volunteering?
A: While learning new skills can be beneficial to many, it’s not a requirement for a fulfilling volunteer experience. Bear in mind that the most valuable skills you can bring to any volunteer effort are compassion, an open mind, willingness to do whatever is needed, and a positive attitude. Voluntary work is not all about money, it’s more of giving a part of yourself to others. You don’t have to be rich to do some charity.
Q: What kind of volunteering do you do?
A: There are numerous volunteer opportunities available. The key is to find a volunteer position that you would enjoy and are capable of doing. It’s also important to make sure that your commitment matches the organization’s needs. So in my case, since I own a salon and I’m into the beauty and wellness business, I decided to use and share my beauty knowledge and skills and time in helping distressed women with debilitating illness such as cancer. 
Q: How do you help distressed women?
A: Helping distressed women who have been victims of physical or sexual abuse or both is no easy task but I always believe that everyone deserves a second chance at life. To be more specific, I help distressed Filipino household service workers who are staying in the Filipino Workers Resource Centre at the Philippine Overseas Labour Office (POLO) by conducting free cosmetology classes, teaching them knowledge and skills on haircutting, dyeing, perming, manicure and pedicure and many more. I conduct the weekly cosmetology class in cooperation with the POLO-OWWA and with the help of the Kuwait Filipino Mothers Organization which I’m a member. This is in line with the Philippine government’s reintegration programme for Filipinos especially the distressed HSWs who want to go home to the Philippines and start a new life. During the class, I get to banter with them and chat with them which in one way or another will push them not to lose hope. In spite of what happened to them, life must go on. You boost their self-esteem and self-confidence. After each course, a certificate is given to the participants. They can use this added knowledge to apply for a new work at a salon or who knows, they can also put up their own salon.
Q: Can you please tell us about your volunteering at the Al Sidra Centre at the Kuwait Cancer Control Centre?
A: The Al Sidra Centre at the KCCC provides psychosocial support for women and their families living with cancer. Together with KFMO, I visit the centre once a week, usually on a Tuesday when I’m not so busy with my clients in my salon. I give cancer patients free haircut, eyebrow contouring and other pampering services that would make them feel good, confident and happy. You have to encourage them to look good and feel good. When you’re sick, it doesn’t mean that you have to look sick. Having a positive outlook in life makes a big difference and it may even alleviate whatever pain or illness you have right now.  I also want to share that my father died of cancer so after his death, I promised myself to help cancer patients in my own small way and this is what I’m doing today.
Q: How did volunteering help you overcome your harrowing past?
A: One of the best ways to make new friends and strengthen existing relationships is to commit to a shared activity together. Volunteering is a great way to meet new people, especially if you are new to an area. Volunteering also strengthens your ties to the community and broadens your support network, exposing you to people with common interests, neighborhood resources, and fun and fulfilling activities. While some people are naturally outgoing, others are shy and have a hard time meeting new people. Volunteering gives you the opportunity to practice and develop your social skills, since you are meeting regularly with a group of people with common interests. Once you have momentum, it’s easier to branch out and make more friends and contacts. Volunteering is not only helping others but it has also greatly helped me. It is very therapeutic.
Q: Aside from your organisation, do you also involve your family with volunteering?
A: Yes, I do involve my husband and my kids. While it might be a challenge to coordinate everyone’s schedules, volunteering as a family has many worthwhile benefits. Children watch everything you do. By giving back to the community, you show them firsthand how volunteering makes a difference and how good it feels to help others and enact change. It’s also a valuable way for you to get to know organisations in the community and find resources and activities for your children and family. 
Q: Based on your years of volunteering, what benefits do you get from it?       
A: As you put in your time, effort and resources in volunteering, unknowingly it is also good for your mind and body. First, volunteering increases self-confidence. Volunteering can provide a healthy boost to your self-confidence, self-esteem, and life satisfaction. You are doing good for others and the community, which provides a natural sense of accomplishment. Your role as a volunteer can also give you a sense of pride and identity. And the better you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to have a positive view of your life and future goals. Second, volunteering combats depression. Reducing the risk of depression is another important benefit of volunteering. A key risk factor for depression is social isolation. Volunteering keeps you in regular contact with others and helps you develop a solid support system, which in turn protects you against stress and depression when you’re going through challenging times. Third, volunteering helps you stay physically healthy. Volunteering is good for your health at any age, but it’s especially beneficial in older adults. Studies have found that those who volunteer have a lower mortality rate than those who do not, even when considering factors like the health of the participants. Volunteering has also been shown to lessen symptoms of chronic pain or heart disease. Speaking from experience, working in a charity really is a great thing, more people should open up their eyes to how good it is!
Q: Some people want to do some voluntary work but they are just too busy or maybe with limited mobility, what can they do?
A: If there’s a will, there’s a way. Whether due to a lack of transportation, time constraints, a disability or other reasons, many people prefer to volunteer via phone or computer. There are many projects where you can help. Writing or graphic design lends itself to working at home, and in today’s digital age many organisations might also need help with email and websites. If you think home-based volunteering might be right for you, contact organisations you like and ask what some of the possibilities might be. Some volunteer organisations may require you to attend an initial training or periodical meetings. You also want to make sure that you are getting enough social contact, and that the organisation is available to support you should you have questions. So it’s just a matter of how willing you are to help for there is always a way. 
Q: How can volunteering advance one’s career?
A: If you’re considering a new career, volunteering can help you get experience in your area of interest and meet people in the field. Even if you’re not planning on changing careers, volunteering gives you the opportunity to practice important skills used in the workplace, such as teamwork, communication, problem solving, project planning, task management, and organisation. You might feel more comfortable stretching your wings at work once you’ve honed these skills in a volunteer position first. You should know what you want.
Q: Does volunteering teach you valuable job skills
A: Yes, definitely! Just because volunteer work is unpaid does not mean the skills you learn are basic. Many volunteering opportunities provide extensive training. For example, you could become an experienced crisis counselor while volunteering for a women’s shelter like the FWRC. Volunteering can also help you build upon skills you already have and use them to benefit the greater community. For instance, if you’re a successful accountant, you raise awareness for your favorite cause on financial literacy as a volunteer advocate, while further developing and improving your public speaking, communication, and marketing skills.
Q: What hand tips can you give to people who want to embark on voluntary work?
A: There are numerous volunteer opportunities available. The key is to find a volunteer position that you would enjoy and are capable of doing. It’s also important to make sure that your commitment matches the organisation’s needs. The following questions can help you narrow your options: Would you like to work with people or would you rather work in solitude? Do you prefer to work alone or as part of a team? Are you better behind the scenes or do you prefer to take a more visible role? How much time are you willing to commit? How much responsibility are you ready to take on? What skills can you bring a volunteer job? What causes are important to you? The best way to volunteer is to match your personality and interests.
Q: How did volunteering change your life?
A: Volunteering is a fun and easy way to explore your interests and passions. Doing volunteer work you find meaningful and interesting can be a relaxing, energizing escape from your day-to-day routine of work, school, or family commitments. Volunteering also provides you with renewed creativity, motivation, and vision that can carry over into your personal and professional life. This in a way has given me a sense of fulfillment in my life and has made me more inspired to face all the challenges that lie ahead in my life. Volunteering makes life more beautiful and worth living. As they say, we can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.
Farida Al-Halimi, a former household service worker who has worked her way up to becoming one of the most successful Filipino entrepreneurs in Kuwait and now owns one of the posh salons, the Al Rawan Salon in Salmiya. After successfully overcoming personal challenges in life, Farida has committed herself to voluntary work to help others especially women in distress and women with cancer. She is a member of the Kuwait Filipino Mothers Organization (KFMO) and a volunteer at the Al Sidra Association for Psychological Care of Cancer Patients at the Kuwait Cancer Control Centre (KCCC). Her exemplary voluntary work has earned her accolades and recognition from various organisations including the KCCC, Philippine Overseas Labour Office and the Philippine Embassy. 

 By Michelle Fe Santiago

Arab Times Staff

By: Farida Al-Halimi

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