#2: Volunteering 

This type of trip is medicine for the soul, because it allows you to become aware of the excess in your life, food, expenses, etc., abstaining yourself from the little daily thing you daily take for granted and which you realize here that they are in reality luxuries. We really use the word “need” too often. Something so simple as allowing yourself to do as I call “fasting from unnecessary things”  – it will change your attitude towards life completely, and you will see yourself much more thankful from that point on. 

Everyone should dedicate at least one month volunteering in a third world country, at least once in their life. And not so much for the results of the job you will do in the place or with the association you choose, but rather for the more important consequences of simply being there and how it affects you as a person. 

To save the world, we do not to try to end hunger, war or injustice, which is difficult for us to make real change, it is enough that we save each other from being unconscious of the destruction we are creating on the world and in each other’s lives in order to be come rich in material objects. 

When you understand the types of situations that these people encounter every day where they live, all the stress and person problems that you carried with you will disappear instantly. Because all of that stuff that takes up space in your mind will  keep seem absurd here. This is why I refer to this experience as social medicine against the constant complaining we are used to. 

I recommend that you go with some ideas already in your head and bring with you some simple supplies (like plasterboard, glue, scissors, etc). It is very useful to take a look at interactive activities for children and plan some activities where they can learn through the use of fun games. But do not worry if you do not have much time to plan because you will realize when you get there that you will most likely have to throw the plan out the window and improvise – these children are not the types that you are used too, they will be much more interested and enthusiastic. 

Some ideas are to do arts and crafts, teach them geography, teach them things about other countries and people – almost anything goes because what it really comes down to is spending time with them and that you get to know each other. You can also look for DIY tricks and I am a particular fan of ArtAttack on YouTube. 

If you have trouble with the language and things do not seem to work, you can always default to music which is an international language and makes everyone feel something. 

The important thing is to do something that is sustainable once you have left so they can continue without you. 

If you decide to give them any materials, please make sure it is ecological and do not bring plastic toys. This is a common mistake that visitors make without thinking about how plastic does not decompose and in these types of cultures they already have extreme problems with waste. Already they are faced with streets, parks and beaches that are full of trash bags and plastic and they do not have sufficient waste systems to get rid of them. Although there are some associations that have managed to make a small difference in West Africa, it is very hard to teach them about recycling when they do not even have rights  or a right to live.

Additionally, the truth is that they do not need toys as they do not really help the children in the long term and are likely to break almost immediately. Children that are brought up playing in nature and playing with the things they find out in the wild helps them be more creative and imaginative, just like our grandparents.

While you are there you will also be confronted with frustration because you will feel like you have given everything, your time, soul, effort, money, etc and you may feel empty. The reality of the huge lack of local support and the likelihood that the project you start will not be finished more often than not is tough. Because they have not experienced that their efforts will pay off, so they may leaving you hanging or turn back on their word.  This isn’t to say that this always happens, as there are some great people and many projects that can make an impact, but the opposite is more common.

So, just remind yourself that you may not be able to create real change in the lives of these people with just temporary work. However, there is an important motive, although hard to explain – that which encourages a volunteer to come back again and again and why they recommend it to others. And it’s because even if a project doesn’t work out, you have helped create change in the world because you will return home as different person, full of appreciation and gratitude and no longer full of silly thoughts.

You will be full of love, wanting to embrace others, and stronger psychologically.  And this new your, forever transformed, will create many changes all around you. 

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