Have you ever taken a moment to consider volunteering? Back in my University and College the benefit of putting volunteering work on your C.V was pushed to me by teachers and students alike. I was often told things like: “It will look great on your C.V!” or “Volunteering is a great idea because it’ll help you get a job!”. This is all true, yes, however, there are far greater reasons why you should consider volunteering. I will share are a few of my experiences on how volunteering changed my life.
So, the whole intention behind doing some volunteer work, just so I could put it on my C.V, seemed a little off to me. And so, I never done any volunteering for a long time. I understood how employers would look at someone who’s done volunteer work, and how it would put me in a better position, but I didn’t want to do it just because of that. I’m not trying to imply that I won’t do something to get something, because in the end everything we do is for something, but in this case it just felt a bit disingenuous.
Learn how volunteering makes a difference and why should you even consider volunteering in the first place?
Later down the road, I took the time to think about the other benefits of volunteering and had a closer look on how volunteering makes a difference. See overtime, I’ve learnt that having a life built on a foundation of emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual health is the key to living a life worth living. I thought about how volunteering would fall under the umbrella of emotional health. I had to consider volunteer work once more. We live in a solipsistic world, and anything we can do to step out of that frame of mind is helpful to living a better life.
Teaching English in Cambodia
By volunteering for the first time in Cambodia at a local school, I learnt the real value behind it. My job was simple: entertain the kids, make them laugh, teach them a foreign English accent and have fun along the way.
The director of the school was just so so happy, someone came along and shared their time with the kids. This all happened in Siem Reap, the capital of the most amazing temples in the world, Angkor Wat.
This experience was one of the best I have ever had in my life (besides the Africa projects). The entire stay in Cambodia was just amazing. Education in Cambodia is very expensive, so not all families have the money to send their kids to English classes. This school was supported by a charity and that way the local teachers received a salary. This was my first time I taught English somewhere. I am not a teacher, all I have is a TEFL certificate. I went through that TEFL course online for a few weeks while I was lying and dying of pain on my friend’s couch in Sydney (I was attacked by a bull in the desert of Alice Springs and had to go though a few operations, read more on that here). Back to the point.
The school never asked me to show any certificate. So I wouldn’t necessary need one, however, I am very happy I went through the course anyways so it gave me some sort of guidance on what to do at school, how to act / what to teach etc. In the end it was all very basic, the level of English was super beginner, the kids were between 4-13 years old. We had class 3 times / day. After 2 weeks of doing that, you can only imaging how tired I was.
Now, there are still heaps of landmines in the fields in Cambodia. The war is only over since 1979, when Paul Pot killed his own people. The soldiers (Khmer Rouge) placed landmines into the fields all over the place. When it’s time to harvest the rice, the families need the kid’s help in order to be fast enough, especially before wet season. So, sometimes the kids wouldn’t show up to class, because of that reason.
Mr. Prosh, the director of the school (man on the right on the picture below) told me, sometimes the kids don’t come back for weeks because they have been too close to an explosion of one of the landmines, sometimes they loose an arm or a leg. Sometimes they never return. How crazy and horrible is that? Thank god I didn’t get to experience this when I was there.
Sure it was a drag sometimes, but the experience instilled within me a new appreciation for the benefits of helping others and helped me to appreciate my life in a very new way. It helped me feel better about my own life, the things and people which are in my life (and not!) and about the the world around me.
Visiting a local school in Lombok, Indonesia
When I was doing my dive certificates in 2013 at the Gili Islands, Indonesia, I made friends with some locals. One of my mates took me to his village over to Lombok, where he brought me to the local school. Most of the kids where moslems (majority of Indonesia’s population are moslems, apart from the Balinese. People in Bali are Hindu, Buddhists or Christians. All of the girls were wearing headscarfs and have never seen a blond person in shorts before in their lives. The average age the students was around 11 years.
I was standing in front of the class and was reading out loud some story the teacher handed over to me. The students didn’t care about the story at all, all they did was staring at me, not moving or speaking. This well was awkward, so I then put down the papers I was reading the story off and just sat my white ass right next to the students. They then started to laugh and opened up, started to ask questions and it was a very memorable and delightful experience for everyone.
If you are interested in teaching English, you can find a few jobs listed on this board.
Volunteering for Kenya & Climbing Kilimanjaro
During my first year of University in London back in 2014 the opportunity to volunteer for a charity called Dig Deep arose and I was all up for it. A group of 10 people and myself dedicated the entire next year to fundraise £1990 each in order to help local communities in Kenya to build toilets in schools and supply fresh water to the communities. We then got to climb Kilimanjaro in return, the highest free-standing mountain in the world. What a journey I can tell you.
Finding that money, bagging your friends & family for donations, organising cake sales and bag packings in Sainsbury’s, local music events and all that jazz was really hard work for little money in return. Some people found our project really awesome whereas others became super rude and were just yelling straight into our faces.
When we were selling cakes at school, some students (especially the ones from Africa) were really happy, and donate without taking a piece of cake whereas others were upset and said ‘go and beg for money elsewhere’, ‘ask someone who actually has money’.
We had similar experiences in Sainsbury’s. We requested a permit to arrange a few bag packing sessions at the supermarkets. Once this went through, I had really amazing friends helping out for a few hours! People who were shopping in Sainsbury’s, were either amazed or disgusted. So, we packed their shopping items in their bags for them and asked for a donation of £1 in return.
Even if the they didn’t want to donate, we still packed their bags, of course. So, some people found our project really cool whereas other were spitting with hate in our faces, saying how rude we were to put them on the spot and force them to pay a £1. Oh my days. Exciting days.
So, a few of us worked our asses off whereas others from the group just continued their normal side jobs and took the money from their salaries and put it onto their fundraising accounts (which was probably the smarter move to do, thinking back at it now).
As a motivation to keep us going throughout the year, and in the case we wouldn’t reach our fundraising target to a specific deadline, the money would still go towards the charities accounts but you would have been left out and not been able to go and climb the mountain. This happened to a few of us. A few lost motivation and didn’t care about not going anymore. It was a hardcore year, full of events, rejections, ups & down. But in the end SO, SO worth it.
You know how you hear all the stories about donating money; will the money ever arrive at the right place, who are the people behind the charity etc.? I was of course a little skeptical myself and I really wanted to go and see the projects the charity is claiming to support with our money. When I requested this for the group, the charity manager said that it was not possible for the entire group to go and that it’s also not a usual thing they do, since it’s also in another country (projects are in Kenya and we climb Kilimanjaro in Tanzania).
I still wanted to go and see for myself though. The group didn’t mind that they couldn’t go, but I did. I was studying journalism and human rights at the time and offered the charity my time and expertise to join the team on their trip to Kenya before the climb, to visit local schools and take footage for them for their new website. That turned out very well. So, I got to travel to Kenya and did all that. It was truly amazing.
Arriving in Kenya
James, the manager of the charity picked me up from the airport. Of course my luggage was delayed, for about a week.
Travel tip here: If you climb Kilimanjaro and you don’t have a week buffer, wear all the gear you need to climb that bloody mountain on the plane, it may not arrive at the same time as you do, or you may never even find it every again. It’s Africa. It’s not Europe.
Simon, our African driver was waiting outside for us. We are driving along the highway. There are three roads going into each direction. All of a sudden there is this massive TRUCK TIRE flying in front of our car, coming from the left. One man is running for his life, screaming: ‘Please leave me alone, please, please, please!’. Five other man are running after him, following him, chasing him with sticks. This happened all across the highway.
I asked Simon WTF that was. He calmly explained that the guy who was running for his life; most likely stole something and got caught by the others. Maybe just a loaf of bread to feed his family at night. The punishment in Kenya for thieves is simple: they will put you into a tire (in THAT truck tire which flew into the picture from the left), and they will burn you. And that was it. ‘The best thing what can happen to that man right now is if the police interferes, so he can at least stay alive,’ so Simon. We kept driving and at some point I couldn’t see the man anymore. I have no ideas what happened to this screaming tall man, I hope he ran into the police.
Right. Welcome to Africa Tina.
Arriving at the hotel, we meet Jessica, James’ girlfriend, who also works for the charity. We are having breakfast together and they explain to me the plan for the next two weeks. We are visiting different villages and different local schools. We will be sleeping in tents, or in schools, we will see. ‘The tents are usually big enough, so elephants won’t step over them, however, it happened in the past. Just so you are aware. We are sleeping in the wilderness,’ so James. I didn’t really know if he was joking or not… shortly I found out that he WASN’T.
Long story short, we travelled to billions of different schools within the next two weeks, some students were in holiday, some weren’t. So we visited schools which applied to receive new funds from the charity in order to build taps and toilets, as well as schools where recent projects have just been finished. We were invited to their opening ceremonies, sometimes three a day, depending on how many schools we visited. We ate crazy amounts of food, sang and danced.
A few things which really sticked to my mind were seeing THOSE toilets. FGM is a huge problem in Africa. It rips my heard apart. For those who don’t know what it is: trusted people, often mothers and aunties, cut off young girls clitoris. For the sake of believe and tradition. Some of the common believes are:
- It will increase male sexual pleasure
- It can ensure fidelity during marriage
- It can ensure virginity (maintain chastity before marriage)
- It can secure the economic and social (i.e. marital) future of daughters
- It will prevent the clitoris from growing long like a penis
- Through the reduction or elimination of the female genitalia, that this will attenuate the sexual desire in the female
- The female genitalia are considered both dirty and unsightly
- It will keep the female clean, and more hygienic
- It is an important ritual and part of the initiation of girls into womanhood
- It is ‘tradition’ and part of one’s cultural heritage
- That it is a religious mandate — although the practice predates both Christianity and Islam
I can not eat as much as I would like to puke whilst I am writing this. They cut off the girls’ clitoris with a razor blade and then stitch the lower part back together. Surprise oh surprise, the lower female part gets infected and they are in serious pain when they go to the toilet. One third of the girls won’t survive because of the huge blood loss. I can not even imagine ANY pain I have ever gone through which could be kind of similar. I can not on any level imagine the pain the girls go through on the day they give birth and on the night of their marriages, when the vagina gets re-opened.
Back to THOSE toilets. Those toilets have cracks and are made out of simple wooden parts. The boys don’t have a hard time to see the girls doing their business, they think it’s really funny and laugh at the girls. As a reaction to that, the girls feel ashamed and guilty, which makes them eventually stop going to school.
Now, there is no clean water provided to wash themselves properly (not at school and not at home), all they have are those contaminated puddles of water nearby. It makes me shiver every time I think about it.
It makes all the hustle from the year of fundraising worthwhile and it makes me very quickly forget about all the haters I had to face along the way. Once I got to know about this while I was in Africa, it all made sense that a lot of female African students stopped at the cake sales at university and just threw their money into our donation box.
Can you only imagine how blessed and privileged I felt about my life, my upbringing and everything else? My clitoris has not been cut off as a kid. I am not forced to wait to sleep with someone until I am married and I can just pick any school / university in any country in this world I would like to be educated by. If I am thirsty, I walk to the fridge and get some water, even though I would be able to drink clean water for free out of the tap. If I feel like I would like to take a shower, I do it as many times I want per day.
Experience by experience, I started to to see life from various different perspectives and was just so happy and appreciated all opportunities which constantly unfold themselves in my life. Sometimes we forget to cherish the simple things in life. Just because they are there (or always have been), doesn’t mean it’s a normal thing to have…
How does volunteering develop skills which are worthwhile?
Volunteering puts you in an uncomfortable situation where you’re forced to extend yourself into something you’ve never done before. The sense of novelty can add a bit of extra spice to your life, while the fact that you’re doing something simply for the act of giving can give you a boost in self-esteem and happiness. But how does volunteering develop skills which will help and guide you through out life?
Part of living meaningfully means serving our community, having a wider view of the world that doesn’t only contain ourselves, our social circle, our worries, and our goals. And this is key of life in my opinion, if you are not willing to spend all your life in one place, where believes are limited in one way or the other. Giving, acts of kindness, and volunteering have one thing in common: They loosen the rigidities of the mind, making it more supple. Thus leading to a more friendly demeanor, both inside and out. Maybe it’s time you consider volunteer work for that reason alone…
Another potentially good thing about volunteering is that you get to meet new people, who also have similar values. And so, you can make new connections, learn about yourself, and just build your skills. Although of course it’s really the luck of the draw sometimes, sometimes you might make friends, but you will most definitely learn to work with others. Sometimes, if you’re looking to get into a particular industry, volunteering in a role that’s similar to it can prove invaluable due to the skills and lessons you will pick up.
Here are 7 benefits to volunteering, see how volunteering changed my life and how it may change yours:
1) You learn new skills that can translate themselves into other areas of your life. Whether that’s now or in the future, you never know when an opportunity might arise that links to your previous experience.
2) You get to it to add it to your C.V. Even though it is about much more than that, it’s a benefit nonetheless, and it gives you more confidence when applying to different jobs considering you know that you come off as more rounded individual. Plus you’ll stand out a little more from the rest of the competition.
3) You boost your self esteem. Self esteem is a term that’s commonly confused with confidence. But it’s a different thing and essentially equates to the reputation you have with yourself. By knowing that you’re providing value in the world, you help your self esteem, meaning you are more likely to feel content and happy in your day to day life.
4) You have a good excuse for doing something different. Sometimes many of the experiences we want to have are unreachable due to financial reasons. Yet, in many of the locations we dream of going to, you can find volunteer opportunities that reward you with accommodation and other perks. If you have some cash on hand, you can wonder off to the beautiful islands of Fiji and get to know the non-touristy parts. Examples include Marine Conservation Programmes, helping to create sustainable communities or various educational programmes. Read more about volunteering opportunities in Fiji here.
5) You get to feel uncomfortable. Stressing yourself in a a good way, is a means by which you can break from the monotony of your life. If you’ve always had the feeling that you wanted to do something a little, volunteering could be the starting point for living a more meaningful, richer, and more spontaneous life.
6) You get to connect with people. By for instance, signing up with a charity line that talks to people who are on the brink of suicide, or facing emotional distress, you gain a new perspective and appreciation for how other people are experiencing their lives. That in essence, will improve your sense of empathy and make you feel more connected to those around you. Meaning, not only will you benefit yourself from volunteering, but the people in your life will benefit from the greater calm and understanding you bring to your interactions.
7) You will build time management skills. By doing it for the long term, you will become confident in the knowledge that you can manage your time to do the things that are personally important to you; such as your work, your family, your friends, your hobbies – while contributing to people’s lives.
In summary, there are so many reasons as to why you should seriously consider volunteer work, both short and long term. Some may appeal to you more than others. Volunteering could in fact, have a cascading, positive effect on your whole life. You now know how volunteering changed my life. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I wouldn’t have had those experiences. And the series of benefits, as we’ve covered, is clear to see. If you’ve never volunteered before, then try something you think you’d enjoy for a couple of weeks. Visit your local support organization in your neighborhood and sign up. If you enjoy it, or if you don’t, continue to experiment with other roles until you can find something worth doing for the long term.
Hopefully this post has given you a vivid insight on how volunteering changed my life and why you should consider volunteer work as well. I feel happy, blessed and so thankful for all the people I met during those journeys.
A special thank you goes to Dig Deep, who took me on their journey. I am very happy I got to see all the school, connect with the kids, got to meet the Dig Deep members down in Africa (Anna & Justus).
The story continues… I fell in love with one of the guides during our Kilimanjaro climb, we stayed together for some time after the climb at his village. It was an experience for itself. I will type it down one day. It’s exciting and sad at the same time.
Now, it’s time to share your story! Have you ever done any volunteer work? Where and what have you done? Do you think it is important to do some volunteering, at least in one point of your life? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below.