Long term volunteer?
A few months ago I arrived back to Europe from my social/educational volunteer project which was in India. Many people and friends of mine were asking about my experiences. I got a few request to visit some summer camps, schools and NGOs to talk about my story. As I was preparing for these events, I collected my ticket and prospects from my journey and I chose several pictures I wanted to show to my audience. In this process, there were a few things that were always on my mind: What can I tell them? Why is it good to be a long therm volunteer in India?
My motto is: ‘Give and get!’. I will try to remember and to write down what I was giving and what I got. First of all, I would like to talk about my motivation: one of the most important things to figure out before jumping in a Fighting with the Poor program or Development Volunteer Program is your motivation. Here was mine:
1.To learn English (I’m an IT guy, I had basic knowledge of English, but I never had time to learn it.)
2.Travel and live abroad (my hobby is traveling, I love to visit different countries and to see how people are living with my own eyes)
3.Volunteer where I can (a few years ago I was working in an NGO; we had many different events and projects, where I was organizing and volunteering as well, but I had the feeling that this was not enough for me.)
The first day in Norway was really strange for me with a lot of new people. Finding or agreeing on a job for the next 9-12 months! I chose to get involved in the clothes collection business. I moved to Denmark and started to work in storage with my Czech teammate, Robert. In the beginning, it was really hard to cope with the work physically, and in the end, it was hard mentally. Our task was to empty the clothes collection vans at the end of the day.
Time after time we were faster, more precise and we created some friendships as well. On the internet, we were connected with our friends and our group, but the first big event was when we went back to our school for the midway meeting. We were so happy to see the others and to feel that “OMG half of the work time is done”. For the rest of the months we went back to Denmark in a good mood and with a strong motivation.
The next big step was the study period. I went back to Norway feeling very satisfied. I reached my small goals. My English developed a lot, I became stronger physically and mentally, and we also managed to raise a large amount of money. It was a pleasure to get together with the team. Of course sometimes it was hard to discuss all the issues that were coming up inside the team, but at the end of the day we were all fine. I have had time and the mood to study so I did. I love to cook, so I got the responsibility for the kitchen and the shopping, I was happy with it.
For a few months I was working in the site-finding team, which was a really nice time in my life. With my colleague, we jumped into the car and we went around in Norway. Our task was to find new spots for new clothes collection containers.
In the study period we had a lot of fun!
We went for investigation trips: one of them was in Turkey, Georgia and Armenia, where I learned a lot about traveling like a backpacker in a small group; the other one was in Iceland, where I was hitch-hiking with my best friend in the program. In the summer, we went together with the team in Denmark to visit our “mother school”. There we participated in the Summer Theater. At the end of our study period we went for some hikes in Norway and at that time we became a stronger group.
In the previous periods there are questions that can pop up at times: Why am I here? Why is it a good idea for me to do this? …
Usually for these questions, one good answer is the travel period. In these three months of travel, we plan our path to get to the project, the starting point being the school. I went to Russia, Mongolia, China, Tibet, Nepal, India and Sri Lanka mainly overland. I have seen many incredible parts of Asia. The feeling of sitting on the Trans Siberian Express, being at the Everes Base Camp in Tibet, and having a bath with the elephants was incredible. But to travel and live like local, to eat on the street in China or travel 48 hours in Mongolia in a bus was an undescribable experience.
The next part of the program is the project period. I found myself in South India, in an educational project for girls in Tuticorin. The first period was not easy for us, because we had to settle down, get accustomed to the local style of living and find our place in the project. But from week to week we somehow managed. Our project leader was a great guy and helped us where he could.
It was really nice to live and volunteer in India, to eat by hand like the locals, and ride a bike on the overcrowded streets. We had a house close to the Indian Ocean, a little far from our office. We went to work and back by bus. I was shopping on the street and I was enjoying it all. In our project we made promotion, we taught English, we held teacher trainings, we helped organize some events and we pitched in for the office work.
The volunteer period passed and I got back to Europe. That was a cultural shock for me: “I can drink water from the tap”, “There are places and times to be in silence”, “People are running and always complaining about something…”
So let’s see the conclusion! What did I need to give? I gave my time, my knowledge and my work. What I got? I did not earn money, but I received many things what I could not change for money. Became stronger physically and mentally; I know myself better, I pushed my boundaries and I know I can be outside of my comfort zone and I’m able to enjoy that. I learned about culture and life. Developed my English, now I can understand if somebody is talking to me in English even if she/he is Indian. Lived and worked in Denmark, Norway and India; I feel that I can live abroad anywhere in the world if I wish to do so. I think in the six months spent in India, our work helped for the development of the project, so I reached my personal goals!
How to be a happy volunteer and what it takes to be long term volunteer?
There are no recipes for how to feel good in this program, how to be a happy volunteer, but I will try to write down what helped me: preparation is really important; before starting the program it is a must to get as much information as you can; if you decide to enroll you need to find out your goals; what will give you satisfaction?; You must have long term and short term goals; You must be flexible, there are changes from time to time; there are problems and challenges arising every now and then, it is good to be able to make decisions and changes instead of complaining. You need to be open to receive the other cultures. You should learn about your own and other peoples needs, and what you must give up sometimes in order to succeed.
Based on my experiences, being a long term volunteer is a very rewarding experience!