Volunteering can be scary, but the risk is worth it; says Shannette Budhai, speaking on The Ryan Tubridy Show. Shannette is the manager of the Roscommon Volunteer Centre and she's spreading the good news about the benefits of volunteering to individuals and communities. She shares practical tips about where to start and information on the opportunities that are out there, whatever amount of time you have to give. Shannette also tells Ryan about her family’s Guyanese roots, her New York upbringing and how Frank McCourt and a sun allergy brought her to live in Ireland.
When she was a child, Shannette Budhai’s family left the tiny Carribean state of Guyana for a new life in New York. Her father brought cash from home, but found himself instantly in financial difficulty when no US bank would exchange it for dollars. Her mother was unable to return to Guyana for her father’s funeral, due to her illegal status; an experience shared by many Irish emigrants to the States. After college in New York, Shanette was on the lookout for a place to settle with very little sunshine; having been diagnosed with a rare sun allergy at the age of 15. After 9 months in Finland, Shannette came to Galway, drawn to our shores by her love of Irish literature and our legendary weather conditions. At NUIG, she met her Roscommon-born husband Jonathan some years later, while living in Dublin with their daughters, she says the couple felt the need for community most strongly:
"It was challenging, because I didn’t have my family nearby, he didn’t have his family, so we were raising children by ourselves and that’s a very lonely place to be, I think."
In 2020, the family moved to Roscommon to be close to Jonathan’s extended family and they've never looked back. Shannette can walk or cycle to work, and there is always family close by. Having experienced loneliness as a young mum, Shannette is perfectly placed to match people in the community with volunteering opportunities; to help them make new friends and use their skills for the benefit of their local area. She tells Ryan that the centre she manages in Roscommon is just one of 29 centres throughout the country, with one in each county and four in Dublin:
"We communicate with local charities and small community groups like Tidy Towns, vintage clothes shops and we find out what their needs for volunteers are. Then we meet with people in the community who have a bit of time, who have skills that they want to give back, who have the passion, the drive and we connect the two."
A good place to start, Shannette says, is to search online for your county name and the word 'volunteer’, or start from the main Volunteer Ireland website, and go from there. Volunteer Ireland promotes volunteering across the country; they also carry out research and liaise with government departments on volunteering issues. Shannette says you can sign up for local information on their dedicated platform:
"There’s a platform that we use called I-Vol, which lists all the community organisations within a county and all the volunteer opportunities those organisations have. So, like role descriptions of what is available."
You can commit to a regular slot or volunteer on a once-off basis, depending on your circumstances, Shannette says:
"We have something called the Community Events Programme, which helps you volunteer at once-off events like festivals or parades or tree-planting, whatever it might be."
Ryan asked Shannette if the impulse to volunteer is actually a desire for community; a way of mixing with other people and avoiding loneliness? Shanette agrees it’s part of the picture:
"We need each other - people forget that. We are social creatures, at the end of the day. We only have each other in our lives; that’s the simple truth. And so we need to find ways not to live siloed lives. I think volunteering is one way of doing that."
Shannette says there is a variety of reasons why people volunteer in their community:
"People go into volunteering to socialise, to learn, to develop new skills, to maybe challenge themselves, to be part of something. It’s often driven by a cause; you might be an environmentalist or you might have a passion for a particular thing, like maybe autism. We have a lot of organisations that would promote the rights of people with autism or disabilities; or just anything."
Pushing yourself to do something new can be scary, but the payoff is worth it, Shannette says. She cites herself as an example - when she got into the taxi on the way to meet Ryan, Shannette says she chose to sit in the front passenger seat, so she could chat to the driver, which she says turned into a great conversation:
"It can be about taking a little of a personal risk. It’s easier sometimes for us to not go out of our shells, to stay in our house, not to talk to the person next to us."
Shannette talks about growing up in a Guyanese community in New York, looking forward to bringing her daughters to visit Guyana and why she loves living in Roscommon in the full interview here.
Find out about volunteering in your area here.