Tamara´s journey to finding her volunteer passion

Tamara is 28 years old and was born and raised in Madrid. She is a creative Events Manager and has a passion for travelling; she has lived in Hamburg, Singapore and San Francisco. Tamara is the Founder of the Madrid chapter of 'Girl Gone International', which she runs voluntarily.

By Tamara Bonilla, edited by Charlotte Tucker

In my homecountry of Spain, volunteering is not usually something that people get involved in. We have a social system that provides for people in need; at least, that´s what we tell ourselves. This truth is, that many people get left behind and fall through the cracks. It is up to us to change things. You just need to find your passion.

In my early twenties, I thought that volunteering was an activity that would primarily benefit me, rather than help others.  My first experience volunteering had no other real goal than to fatten my CV. Sadly, this ended up being a regular job, at a regular company, that was just looking for free employees.

Travelling was key for me to understand the true meaning of altruism. I visited countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan, and saw first-hand what hunger and poverty looked like. I felt lucky, privileged even, for my lifestyle. But back home, it is easy to forget. I still felt that as an individual, I could not make a real difference.

It was during a trip to the USA that I realized how much more involved people my age could be with a cause. The problem was, that I couldn´t find something to motivate me enough to dedicate my free time to it (I was an event manager and worked crazy hours). An opportunity came up: I was offered the chance to volunteer for 5 weeks at the Singapore Youth Olympic Games. I thought this was the push that I needed to try and search for what would really spark a passion inside of me. Even though I took of all my vacation days for this purpose, I am so glad that I did it, because the amazing experience that I had, in such an international environment, was the driving force for what came next.

The next year my boyfriend was sent to San Francisco to work for 6 months and I joined him there. Although the first days felt like a vacation, after two weeks I decided that it was time to make myself useful.  Money not being an issue, I started to look at different volunteering options. It was a difficult decision as there were so many NGOs needing help. In the end, I realized that what was truly important was being able to commit myself to something in which I could offer something that I am really good at: organising fundraisers. Perhaps I was not directly working with the homeless or elderly people, but this time, unlike my first volunteer experience, I was truly working for the wellbeing of others.

When I returned to Madrid, I began to reflect on my time in the US and realised how hard it is for foreigners to start a new life in a different city, or even a different country. I got to know about an organization in Hamburg called Girl Gone International, which helps girls overcome this feeling of loneliness by organising all kind of networking events and activities. Inspired by this group, I set up my own hub in Madrid, and although it started off with only 4 members, it now boasts over 1300. As the community grows I often have to support it financially, but having seen how much it can help others, this is my best reward.

Unfortunately I was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. When I found out the news I was devastated, but I tried to stay positive and continue with my normal life as far as was possible. When I was going through chemotherapy, I thought about how no one should ever have to suffer as much as I did. I started to think about how research into cancer could help this. Once again I decided to do what I do best: organise a fundraising event. I wanted to raise awareness of this disease amongst young women and raise money for the Spanish cancer association. It was such a success and a lovely day that I plan to continue collaborating with them.

There are many ways to volunteer, but most important thing is deciding to contribute your time and experience to a cause out of love. Just like everything else in life, look for an activity that highly motivates you because that is the real key to a successful experience, not only for you, but most importantly for those that you volunteer for.