Volunteering In Riga: Why And Where Do People Do It?

group of volunteers

In a world so focused on earning, buying and consuming, I find solace in one particular transaction that doesn’t involve money. An exchange in which the currency is time and effort. Voluntary work.

I reached out to volunteers on Facebook to find out what drives people to help others and certain causes. In short – a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction, new knowledge and experiences, friends and valuable contacts. But there’s more! Read on.

Who Volunteers In Riga And What Do They Do?

Four times a month Anna Medne volunteers at Radio Marija Latvija – a Christian radio station – where she makes sure the broadcast goes ahead and reads out prayers on air. She’s also volunteered at the Riga International Film Festival, the Song and Dance Festival, Riga Choir Festival and Laiva taking on different roles such as manning an information point.

Since 2016 Vika Dubaņeviča has been an active member of the non-governmental organisation JCI Latvia which encourages personal development and leadership. Responsibilities rotate among the team. This year she’s the vice-president of the Ventspils chapter, in charge of project coordination, member development, events and marketing. Next year she’ll preside over the Ventspils chapter, taking on a more strategic role in planning and communications. Vika gladly dedicates a few hours a week to the cause. When a colleague first introduced her to the organisation, she was quickly sold on the idea of joining, expanding her network and getting involved in projects.

Rick Jacobus regularly donates his time to pro bono legal work for charities including Cerība bērniem (Hope for Children). He witnessed his mum volunteer at school when he was growing up and followed her path.

Nauris Osis began volunteering in 2018 at the Song and Dance Festival. Since then he’s taken on roles at TedXRiga, the Rimi Riga Marathon, Digital Freedom Festival and others. On average, he gives about 20 to 30 hours of his time to an event every two months or so but gave more than 100 to the marathon. Since Nauris aims to gain a broad range of experiences, he likes to do new things at each event. He’s gone, for example, from packing goodie bags to setting up an entire refreshment station and being responsible for a stage.

Nauris didn’t plan to get so involved in voluntary work. He realised how much he likes it during the Song and Dance Festival when he put in a lot more hours than he’d planned to simply because he loved the people, the teamwork and atmosphere. His enthusiasm is often rewarded with invitations to join new events as a volunteer and also as a paid staff member.

Ieva Ancāne has volunteered for the Rimi Riga Marathon and Digital Freedom Festival and handled jobs like driving speakers from airport to venue. Before the pandemic she joined the group of volunteers who help run the Ulubele animal shelter by walking dogs, sourcing food and donations. Ieva believes you should only get involved with longterm projects if you know you’ll have the time and energy to give, otherwise you might be being of less help than you think. She chooses projects which she feels have a deeper meaning, like bringing new knowledge and helping the vulnerable and insecure.

Marika Andžāne is one of the founders of the social project Neklusē (Speak up) which aims to tackle bullying at schools in Latvia. Her role involves project management, organising events and training at schools, fundraising, marketing and building partnerships with schools, parents and teachers. Marika finds herself spending time on the project almost every day.

At school and university Marika was an active member of the student council. After completing her studies, her time went into building a career. Three years down the line she realised she was missing something. To get a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction, she needed to feel like she was playing her part in building a better society.

What Motivates People to Volunteer in Riga

Anna: The knowledge that I can be useful to others. Also, that the experience can come in handy in my own life.

Vika: The sense of fulfilment, satisfaction and joy that comes from taking part in social projects unrelated to work and my day-to-day. It’s an opportunity for me to grow through training and doing, communicating with people from different backgrounds and handling all kinds of situations. I’m a person who likes to give and help others.

Rick: I feel privileged and think we should give back if we have enough.

Nauris: Team work and attitudes. People don’t volunteer for money, they do it because they want to improve something, so the vibe is positive all day long. I’ve made new friends at every event and we still keep in touch. Through communicating and working together I’ve gained so much experience in handling social situations. Personally, I also feel proud and happy when you know an event’s gone well, participants are happy and the managers appreciate your efforts.

Marika: Being able to prove that personal effort has the power to improve the environment we live in.

Ieva: By helping and supporting others you gain such joy, emotions and adrenaline that money just can’t buy.

What Do You Gain from Volunteering in Riga?

Anna: Positive emotions and new skills which I can put to use when organising my own events, for example. Also, dear friends in Latvia and throughout Europe. As I say about myself, I don’t like to be in one place, I love to try different things.

Vika: Experience and knowledge, a widened network and friends are just some of the gains. The sea of positive emotions and memories that comes from taking part in projects, workshops and conferences. Also, the chance to meet and speak to people in a casual setting who you’d otherwise never come across.

Nauris: A lot of experience, new friends and contacts for the future. Voluntary work is like a different realm where colleagues show initiative, have innovative ideas and want to help. It’s also an opportunity to get behind-the-scenes insight into events – how much effort goes into the details, so things run smoothly. The events industry is a field I see myself working in in 10 or 20 years, so the experience prepares me to understand the essence and layers of organising an event.

Marika: Satisfaction. Our goal with Neklusē is to decrease emotional and physical bullying at schools in Latvia. I request feedback from the participants of every event and training we organise. Mostly, I get a lot of thanks from parents, teachers and students for the valuable information, practical methodology and interesting presentation. That gives me the energy to keep going, so that we can help the students who need it.

Also personal development. Most of the time I learn through doing because I’ve never had to develop an app before, carry out studies, train teachers online and in person, deal with the media and organise marketing campaigns. That’s why we partner with professionals who are ready to invest their time in the project because they also believe in the cause.

Rick: A sense of satisfaction and putting your principles into action.

A wider social circle. I was surprised that so many businesses agreed to partner with us from the word go. They’re happy to sponsor us and work pro bono to help develop the mobile app, create campaigns and provide counselling sessions. It’s just really great to meet people who care about kids and teenagers.

Ieva: Joy, emotions and adrenaline that money can’t buy. Also experience and new knowledge.

How Do I Find Volunteering Opportunities in Riga?

Facebook groups: Brīvprātīgie+, #vieglipalīdzēt and others

Church community groups

Asking around!

The Global Shapers community in Riga.

Can I Use English When Volunteering in Riga?

Plenty of organisations are happy to welcome English speakers. Festivals often need people who speak different languages to communicate with international attendees. Organisations like JCI Latvia and Neklusē use English a lot in their own communication. Rick mentioned he’s happy for people to contact him about volunteering at the Cerība bērniem charity, they often need donations as well. Make sure you understand your own reasons for applying and your genuine availability to commit!

Where I See Potential to Involve Volunteers in Latvia

I believe voluntary work can really help give a sense of purpose to social groups such as the unemployed and retired. Not only could it benefit mental health and encourage social inclusion, but also help overcome staff shortages, particularly on a regional level. Here are just a couple of ideas I’ve seen working abroad that I would love to see embraced in Latvia:

Lollipop men and women. Helping children cross the street in safety.

Storytellers, minders and cafe staff at visitor attractions and museums.

Make a Difference – Volunteer!

Each of us has the power to create positive change. Thanks to everyone who shared their story. Are you willing to follow their lead and give a few hours of time every once in a while?

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