What did the world get out of this?
I had my share of the concept “volunteering” and this is my conclusion: It’s a good idea to travel to developing countries. It can only help to spend some money there. It’s good to stay in one place for longer and really get a thorough picture of it. It’s great to lend a hand whenever it’s needed while you’re there. It’s splendid, if you meet people that you want to keep in touch with. And it’s over the top if you’re so touched by something that you want to get involved and keep on helping someone until you’ve really made a change together. All this can happen when doing volunteer work. But you can’t expect it to happen automatically and even if you do everything right, it might still just not. What it certainly doesn’t depend on is the organization you’re traveling with.
Funny thing is: I’m lucky, it happened exactly like this for me. I got involved with a local hospital which led to a probably life long involvement in humanitarian aid for that hospital. Working on that I learnt what helping really means. It means that you make people a part of your life for way more than just a few months. It means well distributed sacrifice- you can’t do too little, because you feel too strongly for the project, but you also can’t do too much, because you won’t keep on going, if frustrations are piling up and you can’t sleep anymore.
I had to pinch myself again and again when I started traveling, to see if I’m not dreaming. By the end of the program, I’ve proceeded to slapping myself in the face from time to time. Not because there was any doubt about everything being reality. But to remind myself to keep on being grateful for each moment, to not get too used to it and to take it all in and store it for less fulfilling days of my life.
Sarah Hahn, Volunteer with the Water Resources Management project for the Mahafaly Plateau, Madagascar