I had a most shocking experience today. It started quite innocently. I applied for volunteering at a two-day event, got an e-mail with my schedule (7 hours’ shifts both days, I thought it was a little bit too much but I wanted to attend the event anyway so I thought OK, no problem), shifted my other scheduled stuff around to free up these two days. I turned up on time, sat at a reception table and everything went well until, about three hours later, the person in charge told me that they don’t need me anymore and would manage on their own.
Here’s our further dialogue:
– So, shall I come tomorrow morning?
– No, we don’t need you.
– But I can still attend the conference tomorrow, right?
– No, sorry.
– But you gave me the schedule, I freed up these two days…
– It’s enough that we allow you to stay today and mingle with the attendees; we normally do not allow the volunteers to do that.
I was completely astonished. I have had volunteered at around 20 events in Toronto so far, and it is common understanding that, when a volunteer is not on duty, he or she gets to walk around at the event, attend any sessions if there is room enough, talk to whoever he or she pleases, etc. This is actually why people volunteer: to exchange some of their time for the right of attending an event and everything that comes with it (a networking opportunity, etc.). The concept of a volunteer being low caste and not allowed to touch the regular attendees lest he soil them with his impurity is entirely new to me. Now, I totally understand that sometimes the resources are limited and the volunteers do not get invited to a final reception or something. But this really takes the cake. I am probably lucky they allowed me to use the washroom at the venue and did not send me to a McDonalds up the street for that purpose.