Inherently all volunteering is a selfish act. We do it because it makes us feel good to help others and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. In fact, there is no way around it.
There are two organizations that I volunteer with on a weekly basis. La Milpa Organica Farm, which is self explanatory, and Outdoor Outreach. I volunteer with the farm mainly because I want to learn about organic farming. I also enjoy it immensely. Saturdays and sundays now have an even greater importance than just not having to go to work. It's quite unusual to smile and be happy about going to work. This is why I want to farm. On the weekends I happily give them my labor and they teach me about hardening plants, how to market produce, watering systems, organic pest control, and on. This relationship is truly skewed in my favor. And deep down truly selfish. But it's okay. It's a win-win situation. I get knowledge and they get physical labor.
Outdoor Outreach is an organization that works with underprivileged and at-risk youth from the cities who don't have access to the outdoors on a regular basis. The program takes these children and lets them experience hiking, mt biking, camping, snorkeling, snow boarding, and surfing to name a few. I can't do the organization justice in a few short paragraphs so please take a look at their website. To say the least, volunteering with them is fun. I get to do all the things that I love to do. So again selfish. But there is another reason that I volunteer with them.
I read "A New Earth" by Eckhart Tolle about a month ago. In it he makes the comment (not verbatim) "when you feel like you are owed something by the world, your job, your spouse - try and give that something to who you feel owes it to you. That is the other reason I volunteer. I feel like the world owes me a break. Where's my chance to make it big and change my life? So I try and give someone else a break in this world. I don't want to sound so pompous as to think I'm changing the world or making a great impact on these kids. Yet it is nice to spend time with them and see how they are standoffish with you at first and, if you are lucky, by the end of your time together, they actually seem to enjoy hanging out with you. When they first arrive no one wants to do anything - they just meander around. You show them how to do things and you get the typical kid response "I know" or "I can do it". As if letting you help them shows some weakness. Sometimes they don't want to fully be engaged out of fear of failure - "I can't," or "I don't want to" is heard a lot. So you stay engaged with them. You let them figure it out and offer gentle guidance. You basically give them a break and be supportive.
After they catch their first wave or make their first turn on the snowboard you can tell they know they can do it by the smile on their face. They become fully engaged.
You know what? Eckhart is right. The idea that I am owed anything becomes trivial and trite. I also realize that these kids are giving me a break.