It’s that magical time of the pre-Burn, where we send out the siren calls for our most awesome army of dedicated contributors, the ones that literally make the Burn happen, the ones that keep you safe, build the infrastructure, check your tickets, provide you with your beloved ice, show you where to park, map your MOOP, and paddle your bum (consent-fully) when you arrive. Volunteers are the lifeblood of the Burn. If you are a newcomer or even a recent ‘resident’, volunteering can sometimes seem a bit daunting of a commitment.
We caught up with one of our most excellent and more recent volunteers, Chloe, to shed some light on what it’s like to start contributing to the event through volunteering.
“Kia ora, my name is Chloe, and I am the Gate Lead for Kiwiburn 2021. I have known about Burning Man and Kiwiburn since 2010 but didn’t brave my first Burn until 2018 (after I had met a lot of Burners through the Auckland fire and flow scene – since then I’ve been hooked!)
I volunteered on my first Burn – I had no idea what gifts to offer to the community and decided that donating my time was the best way to contribute. I volunteered for Gate in 2018, and this past year I was the Gate 2IC, with my promotion to Gate Lead following shortly after. So far, all my volunteer experience has been Gate, although I am dipping my toes into other departments for Ignition 2021.
My best volunteer experience thus far has been opening day at Kiwiburn 2020 – fast paced action with a lot of problem solving. It speaks to my nerd/geek capacity that I find joy in such things, even at a Burn. To me, it’s very important that we get everyone onto the Paddock as safely and efficiently as possible. I love being able to welcome all my friends, both new and old, onto the Paddock. The work can certainly be challenging – you must pick up the slack if a volunteer doesn’t show up, and there can be a lot of moving parts to be organised before the event. However, these are the sort of challenges I thrive on and it has developed me as a person.
Volunteering is seriously underrated – I don’t think I would have made my way in the community as well as I have if it weren’t for volunteering. It gives you a chance to meet new people – both those on your shift and those you encounter (especially at Gate!). It has pushed me out of my comfort zone, encouraged me to take things into my own hands, and developed my ability to relate and connect with others. The personal growth I’ve experienced in a few short years is incredible, and it’s part of what makes the Burn such an important thing to me. There is always something to be learned or, sometimes more importantly, unlearned.
If you are nervous about volunteering, try and do it with a friend. That is what I did my first Burn and it worked really well. Not every shift I had was with a friend, but I built friendships that then made those other shifts enjoyable. Think about what you truly enjoy doing and see how it ties into various departments – you are going to be in your element if the volunteer role is something that plays to your strengths. If you are unsure what your strengths are, asking some friends is always a good way to gauge that.
Always read important communications that your department sends to you before the event – it will make things much easier for yourself and others on your shift if you have familiarised yourself with what’s to be expected. I have found that you get the hang of it once you are on the shift, but that background knowledge is crucial to not feeling completely out of your depth.
Since the Gate is technically ‘off the Paddock,’ I always take my trusty backpack with me. This carries important things like sunscreen, an extra layer (especially if it’s an evening/night shift), my umbrella to keep the sun off me, my water bottle, any medicines, snacks, an energy drink (or two), baby wipes/hand sanitiser, extra toilet paper (you never know), and anything else I might need to get me through a shift. A good comfy pair of boots is a must, and, for Gate, we are all about our crazy hats. A good thing about Gate being off the Paddock is that it’s a space in my mind that is ‘Gate business,’ so once I’m up there my brain has clicked over to that mindset.
As someone who is involved with pre-event organisation and volunteering during the event, balancing volunteer time with the Burn is something that I am still learning. Learning my boundaries is a work in progress, but this year has taught me a couple of lessons that I plan to implement next year. Considering I have only attended two Kiwiburns and one Ignition, I’ve still got a lot to learn! If you are just starting out as a volunteer, think about how you approach your Burn, and try to organise volunteering within that. Everyone experiences their Burn differently. If you are a Burn virgin and are planning to volunteer, don’t over commit yourself – and always, always, ALWAYS harass your friends to volunteer. Many hands make light work!
Throughout my Burn experience, I have found a community of amazingly talented, intelligent, and loving people. People that, through default society, I may never have met. That is why I plan to stick around. I don’t know what participation for me will look exactly like in the future, but I know I will continue developing myself and my skills and be where the mahi is.”
Volunteering makes the Burn happen, find out how you can be the best expression of yourself through volunteering in 2021 here.