Volunteering: Fully Immersed in Your Role, As Well As Your Community
In 2018 Melissa Scott was a long-term Volunteer in Chilanga, a small town outside of Lusaka, Zambia, in a community school for orphaned and vulnerable children. Her official title is ‘Teacher Mentor’ but this included covering classes, teaching computer lessons, providing teacher workshops, painting classrooms and being the go-to ICT technician! In her own words, Melissa recounts her experiences as a volunteer.
This quote by Augustus Hare sums up what I believe are the best parts of volunteering. Talking about seeing the same place and communities again and again, he says you get, “to watch them, to learn them, to live with them, to love them, till they have become part of life and life’s recollections.”
Volunteering: An Insightful And Inspiring Experience
As a volunteer you are invited into a hospital, a hospice, an orphanage, a woman’s group, a school, a community. From there you gain a unique insight into how people from different places, lifestyles, cultures and backgrounds navigate life and survive in this world. You are given responsibility for making a change; people believe that you are there to aid them, to make something different in their lives and this hope that people, who don’t even know you, have in you, spurs you into action.
To Volunteer, Or Not To Volunteer?
When you tell people you are going to volunteer you get one of two responses; either admiration and sometimes a mild form of jealousy at your ‘bravery’; or they think you have gone crazy, are making a silly decision or are having some sort of life crisis.
In the first instance, the fact that you want to help others is recognized and so friends and family see you as selfless, willing to give up your life at home to help those in need. They will want to support you in any way they can, giving donations in the way of funds, resources or encouragement when needed. These people are the ones who help you to know deep in your heart that you CAN do it and that you WILL survive, especially on the days where you begin to doubt your decision to go overseas. The secret that these people don’t know is how much you will get out of volunteering, making it in my opinion, not as selfless as it seems.
You will have so many moments where your heart will feel like it’s going to burst, your eyes will fill with tears and when you’ll never want to leave. The people you’ll meet, the experiences you’ll have and the stories you will hear will never leave you and as the quote at the beginning says, they will “become part of life and life’s recollections”. They will be recollections that you will want to revisit over and over again, so much so that you’ll want to meet new people just so you can tell the stories to a different audience!
Taking That Step To Volunteer Overseas: Is A Rewarding Move
The second type of person, the one who doubts your decision, will ask you, “Are you SURE you want to do this? Are you SURE you want to leave your permanent job/family/friends/loved one/privileged lifestyle? Are you SURE this is really a good idea?” Out of love for you they will tell you repeatedly to think hard and not to make this decision lightly; and of course you shouldn’t. But if you wait to be SURE, then you’ll never go, because even when you get out there you’ll have moments of uncertainty.
However, you’ll also have these incredible moments that you can’t quite put into words for others, where you will realize that you are right where you are supposed to be and you wouldn’t change these moments for the world. It might be the fourteen year old child who excitedly exclaims, “Am I finally going to learn to read?” when you explain that their teacher is going to try a different approach to literacy lessons. Or the elderly man in the hospice bed whose eyes fill with tears as he kisses the bible you have just delivered to him. It could be the church congregation who worship wholeheartedly, despite lacking what you see as basic life necessities. Or the head teacher who tells you she feels like a burden has been lifted, just by your presence in her school.
What Volunteering Leaves Behind
When you volunteer you hope to leave something behind. It may be assisting towards resources or money, but more likely it will be having helped to empower a community, locals newly equipped with the skills to fulfill their roles or simply people who feel loved. However, perhaps the most valuable things you will leave behind are unique friendships, grateful communities and a little bit of your heart, longing to return.
If this has intrigued you, click the links for more information on our short term volunteering programme and you could learn, share and work with a community, just like Melissa, with one of our 30+ partner organisations across Africa. You can also read another post from Melissa, on the ICT project that she instigated on her placement in Zambia.