Jana Zilkova is the Head of Mission of Caritas Czech Republic in Mongolia. She has more than 10 years of experience in international development, project management, policy making and research. She has studied and worked in several European and Asian countries, including the Czech Republic, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Singapore and currently Mongolia. Today, Jana Zilkova shares her experience about volunteering and encourages others to become volunteers as well.
Volunteering opened many doors for me
Volunteering. Internships. Skill-building opportunities. Why are they so important for us? Volunteering opportunities made me the person I am today. It is impossible to express it differently. All the occasional, short-term and long-term opportunities I have taken in the last 16 years, have shaped me and opened more doors than I could have ever imagined. Many of you are already volunteers and do not even know about it. Many young people in Mongolia help younger siblings at school, help parents at home, and support communities while managing and dealing with all other tasks at school, work and life in general. Many young people are members of non-governmental organizations, associations, clubs and various informal groups with similar values and objectives. However, many young people are not engaged in any volunteering activities. It’s a huge mistake and I will explain to you why.
What’s better than being a part of something greater than us? Almost nothing! Small-scale initiatives, such as helping your neighbor’s kid with her/his homework, cleaning up your environment or raising awareness on climate change, are life-changing. I truly believe that volunteering opens doors that are often closed to most of us. We are connected through common goals, visions and dreams. That’s why volunteering matters!
I started my volunteering ‘career’ way before I started to be paid, at least partially, for my skills. I simply wanted to try everything I could to find the passion that would drive me for the rest of my life. I quickly understood that my problem was not to find a volunteering opportunity and get involved but to learn to say no. Every opportunity I have taken opened more doors and I was not able to decide which door is right for me. People told me that I cannot do everything and I knew they are right. However, I decided to follow my heart and do it my way anyway.
I have narrowed down my interests into 3 sectors: kids, animals and environment. I wasn’t able to say no to any of them. They made me happy and excited at the same time and I wouldn’t be happy with my choice if I said no to any of them. Thus, I accepted the challenge and divided my free time into these 3 interests regardless of what others have advised me. I collected trash and helped local communities with some small-scale projects in the nearby forest. I travelled tens of kilometres a couple of times a month to take care of tigers. With my running mates, we took dogs from a nearby animal shelter for a run. Finally, I became a mentor of 2 girls from a minority group living in my hometown whom I was helping improve their language skills. I have done it all not because I was trying to prove to someone that I am a good person but because it gave me strength and power that I was not aware of before.
Step out of your comfort zone
I believe that we humans represent what we give and not what we get or what we expect in return. Even though I had to scale down my volunteering activities since I came back to Mongolia, I support, at least virtually, any activity that has a deeper meaning. Do not wait for dream-like opportunities and step out of your comfort zone now. Maybe today it’s the right time to sign up for a volunteering opportunity and to start a new chapter. Any action counts.
I believe that becoming a volunteer is a life-changing experience and so should you. If you don’t know where to start, you can find more volunteering opportunities here: https://ivolunteer.mn/. The website was developed under the ‘All for youth, youth for all’ project funded by the European Union and supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, Canada Fund, the Asia Foundation and many others. The project is implemented by Caritas Czech Republic, Centre for Citizenship Education and Mongolian Youth Council.
Written by Jana Zilkova, Head of Mission of Caritas Czech Republic in Mongolia