The Volunteer

Well, that didn’t take long, did it?

I think on the spectrum of that has Dunning-Kruger syndrome on one side and impostor syndrome on the other, I thankfully for more towards impostor. I anthropomorphize my life as a sword of Damocles type force that lingers around waiting with a baseball bat for me to get uppity, and the minute I do, it will take me to task. I don’t have confidence, but at least I have humility. I am, at least somewhat good at hiding my lack of confidence, particularly in work settings. But I am always plagued by doubt.

At the new job this manifested almost immediately. I work in a sensitive setting with vulnerable people. The fear that came into my mind was to what extent I even belonged there, and by what right was I even helping people? Who the fuck am I to be doing this. For a moment, I considered myself to be some kind of a carpetbagger1, who showed up at this job because there was an opportunity and not for actual humanitarian reasons.

I still don’t know about myself, but this type of carpetbagging is pretty endemic. maybe I am just as much a shitty, ‘here-for-the-wrong-reasons’ asshole as anyone else. But at fucking least, I think I am here being reflective about my actions, and that is the first stone in the bridge to being a better person. Thus, here starts a series about all the shitty people I meet at work.

Buckle up kids.


It wasn’t even my first day of work. It was the night before. The new job I had was one that communicated heavily via Whatsapp, and thus I was being inundated with messages well before I ever even got here. But a particularly interesting one came in the night before. It was from one of the volunteers I would be managing. He introduced himself politely enough, but a little further into the conversation he asked me what my credentials were. I was later told that this was a red flag, and that frankly it was none of his business what my credentials were. I made the mistake of telling him, and of course a heartbeat later he was informing me that he had significantly more experience than I did.

And thus we are at red flag number two.

I would met him a day later. He was really something of a braggart. He talked about all the great things he did, how he started as a journalist for the BBC and the CBC before moving on to do social work. Somewhere along the line he got into ESL and also had 10 years experience doing that. It all felt a little dick-wavy to me, but I let it go.

Facts in isolation stand on their own. Later, as more facts crowd around them, you begin to doubt whether those first facts are standing at all.

Red flag number three came when, during our induction, a supervisor told him about a security rule and he made it very clear that, as a Canadian social worker, he didn’t have to follow this rule. Again, let me be humble – I have no idea who here was right about what. The discussion was about how and if you should get involved if you see something illicit (I am being a bit vague, but I feel I need to. Sorry), and maybe this gentlemen really did feel like he could get involved. Maybe he really did have the training and the right to do as he said he was entitled to do. But there is something to so about the way he brought it up – it was a little to authoritative for a person who, organizationally, didn’t have the authority. Linked to that point is the notion that he was not here as a private individual – he was here as a volunteer of our organization, and thus everything he did while he was here would be looked upon as something we put into motion.

There were more problems during induction that only I saw. One of the people doing our induction was abroad at the time and thus telecommuted the presentation. During the entire time when that was going on this volunteer was ignoring the presentation and just browsing the internet on his tablet. At some point just after the presentation, he turns to me and says “you know, whenever I am sitting through things like this I think its best to just ignore what is being said and do whatever you want.”

Imagine saying that to your fucking supervisor!

I was his supervisor, of course. Despite the fact that I was 30 years his junior.

At some point other people began to notice that he simply wasn’t paying any attention to what was being said. We had several of these inductions, and he would often ask a question that had clearly  been addressed just a few moments before.

Originally, it had been scheduled that Wednesday were something of a free day for the teachers. Previously, it was labeled as something of an arts and crafts day, but the students could select any more social activity to do with the students, so long as it had a theme. Wanted to talk US politics? be our guest, just keep it civil.

Such activities were beneath this volunteer, and no matter how I explained it to him, he wouldn’t budge on the idea. He simply refused to do ‘arts activities’, despite my saying that it didn’t have to be such. But of course, he wasn’t listening.

At this point we were all very concerned. But what was it that we could do but soldier on.

So then we had the registration days. We were only expecting to register something akin to 50-100 students. We got four to five times as many. This was an organizational strain that I was not prepared for, and considering that it was my job to be prepared for it, I had a cause for concern to begin with. So did the whole organization. We ended up restructuring our whole schedule so as to best fit as many students as possible. Was this a good idea? To be determined. But we did it.

Mr.Volunteer was none to pleased with this. He began to say that the classes were going to be too full. In his 15 years of teaching ESL, he had never had classes so full.

Wait a second, hadn’t he said he that he had had 10 years experience? Hm.

I informed him that in my teaching history I had had classes of 30 (I think I have capped out at 35), and that I didn’t think these classes would be a problem. He said that he felt that he should have no more than 45 students over the course of his tenure with us.

This is of course

Instead, he went home and that weekend sent us a list of demands.

  • He would not work on Wednesdays. Even though at this point we had changed the schedule and were giving regular classes.
  • He would not teach more than 45 students.


I don’t know what to think of this. I don’t know what to make of the individual I worked with for that week or so. But it brought me back to the notion of those carpetbaggers from the beginning of the post. I don’t know why I am here, but somewhere inside I definitively feel like I am here to do some kind of fucking good. Epistemologically I know that ‘how I feel’ is about the worst evidence anyone could ever provide. But there is a bit of evidence I have that is stronger than that, and that evidence is comparative. I may not be sure with any kind of certainty what my motivations are, but they are certainly better than at least one volunteer’s.


1 Yes, I know that this is a bit too metaphoric a use of the word ‘carpetbagger’, who were principally people out to make money. I on the other hand, doing humanitarian work, am not. Still, bear with me playful use of language.

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