Travails of a Volunteer

Sweaty Dave, Going Postal
contemplativechristianLicence CC BY-SA 2.0

I work for a very enlightened employer, it is as companies should be, and how most were 20 years ago, working in a patrician, supportive environment where employees are valued.

Among many career opportunities and activities that motivate help and build team identity, each employee is allowed up to two days paid leave for charitable purposes. One day can be used for the employee’s charity of choice, the second for one associated with charities linked to the company.

Employees do not have to get involved in any way, but it gets you a day out of the office, usually making a difference to someone’s life. Activities can be decorating, gardening, fundraising, running events such as tea for the elderly. Anything can be suggested and put forwards. As well as paying for time, a budget can usually be created for materials needed.

I had not done any volunteering with the company and being relatively new, felt I’d best do a day. The first one to come along was at the request of a local charity to decorate the bedroom of a disabled child who had spent a long time in hospital and was due home. The lad organising it is a friend and was looking for help.

Five of us threw the hat into the ring to spend a day decorating the room. Paint, brushes, coverings and all materials were provided by the charity. We arrived at 9am on the day in question to find a photographer outside the small house that was situated in a poor, but not dangerous, area of the city. To see them there was not a huge surprise, as you’d expect the charity to want to use an event for publicity.

Some warning signs started to show – the outside of the house was extremely messy, rubbish in the front garden – the snow covered cardboard pizza boxes could have been thrown in there by passers-by, but had been there for a while; the old cardboard boxes and piles of rubble in the carport needed removing. Perhaps the tenant’s two cars could be used to take that away. The bags of food on the floor, possibly waste should have been in the overflowing bins.

As mentioned the photographer was outside. At -4c that morning, she was rather cold. The lady in the house not knowing who they were was refusing entry, so we invited her into our car to keep warm until our contact arrived. Once the person she knew arrived, we all managed to go inside.

The small council house was probably 70 years old, run down with plenty of alterations over the years, normal for the area. The disabled child was to be in what had been a dining room on the ground floor, with a bathroom just behind with a full disabled bed and hoist running along the ceiling into the bathroom, fully provided by the NHS. The room had been decorated in the past, with gusto – paint was everywhere including a multitude of electrical sockets and equipment. Our decorating was the same colour (white) so not too easy to see what difference it would make, but as we were there…  The BBC and charity took photos and left a timelapse camera to show progression.

The tenants were an Iraqi or Syrian family, Husband and wife, both with fairly good English. They had a toddler in the house and an older child who was in hospital and we were told, had been there for around a year. It was the elder child’s room that we were working upon.  The house had been given significant investment by the public authorities – new carpets throughout, meaning shoes off at the door, a huge American fridge and six burner double cooker shoe horned into the kitchen, new 60in UHD TV on the lounge wall (the box for it was still lying out in the carport. It was cold outside but heating was on full, plus two electric storage radiators on full blast, meant the place was like a sauna. Questions in the back of the mind – who paid for all that then?

We got on with the work, comprehensively covering up the carpet to protect it and moving the enormous bed into the middle of the room. Walls and ceiling were painted, old paint removed from sockets and one fixed back onto the wall. With no electrician on site the bare electric wire sticking out of the wall was carefully avoided in case it was live.

The decorating didn’t take long, the wife busying around keeping an eye on her precious carpet and after a while starting to decorate the bathroom herself. She seemed to get rather carried away, painting over tiles and even a toilet roll holder with the white emulsion. It was outside our remit, so let her get on with it.

The husband was less engaged, the typical middle eastern head of the household, barking orders but doing little himself. He was probably mid-forties, fully fit. He didn’t lift a finger all day, watching the enormous TV with the toddler. At one point he did try ordering me to paint something else, but didn’t get the reply he expected (it was polite). As I’m significantly bigger than him (not quite Med sized but getting there) he retreated.

By lunchtime the room was 90% decorated, so we left it to let it dry. An hour later all returned to touch up the odd missed bit, clear up and quickly run a roller over the patch by the stairs he’d demanded. The man of the house having not moved from the sofa after that initial contact. The wife pestered our contact as she wanted them to provide a picture from eBay – priced at between £30 and £300. Our man rang the charity to placate her, who refused – saying ‘I’ve got posters for the walls as agreed, they will always just push and push for more’.

After lunch a cousin or son arrived – lad in late teens or 20’s, flash car, who sat with the husband and chatted, pity he couldn’t have done something to help them. We finished our work, the husband asking slightly more politely if I’d do the patch in the hallway (already done with a cursory roll up and down).

As we left and the front door closed without a word of thanks, the other volunteers, two of which were pretty senior in our company finally burst out ‘what a lazy b….d!’ and more – fully noticing the husband doing nothing, the state of the place, the high temperature, the new appliances, the crazy wife decorating and most importantly, that there are many many more deserving cases of need out there that we should have focused upon – it all came out.

The good thing of the exercise? A disabled child has a better environment, but much more usefully, a team of previous normies are now more woke to the situation, they will tell their friends and on it will go.

P.s. the next day our co-ordinator went back to follow up, the charity boss was there, she was getting grief from husband, who was complaining he didn’t like the colour of the free shelves they were putting up, and the free TV bracket was in the wrong place… gratitude? Nope. Our guy had a quiet word with the charity – next time, vet your clients rather more effectively, or you’ll not be getting any help from us.

© Sweaty Dave 2018