Recently, I’ve been seeing a lot of judgement from others in regards to volunteering in countries in Africa, as well as various other parts of the world. I’ve seen nasty comments saying people are doing it to “show off” or to “feel good about themselves.” I’ve also seen some valid points. Like you should ensure the money you put into the organization actually goes into the organization. For example the organization I’ve chosen. Give a Heart to Africa is 100% volunteer run and every dime of donations goes into the school they’re running to benefit the women in attendance. Another great point is to ensure that as a volunteer you’re utilizing the skills you actually have rather than say, constructing a building when you know nothing about it.
Personally, I never really care about what others think. Especially, when I believe them to be close minded or ignorant about a specific subject. I mean really if any of the people shitting on the concept of volunteering in other countries actually volunteered in another country– do you think they’d have the same opinion? Doubt it. Anyway, I decided to write this article in case anyone else has received comments like these and was feeling discouraged. Or maybe even if any of those people read this and allow it to crack open their minds a bit.
So below I’ve listed the reasons I’m headed to Moshi, Tanzania, Africa this week and why I am absolutely thrilled to be volunteering there.
I want to absorb
Having lived in very different parts of the US, I have been immersed in the different culture of each place. It fascinated me how insanely different two states in the same country can be so different. I found this true for every time I’ve traveled outside of the US. I always make it a point to soak up the local way of life rather than demanding everything be as I’m used to.
Different cultures blow the doors off your perspective. They bust your mind open whether you like it or not. When you allow yourself to be immersed, you discover things about yourself you weren’t formerly aware of.
One of the reasons I’m so excited to visit Tanzania is because I want to absorb the culture. I want to see how these people live so differently from us. I want to experience firsthand the gratitude so many who’ve visited speak of. A kind of gratitude I feel as though is rare in America. And I want to experience the similarities, the part of people that make us all the same despite our differences.
Different cultures blow the doors off your perspective. They bust your mind open whether you like it or not.
I want to struggle
This past April, my husband and I took a trip to Italy. I was thrilled to be able to share one of my favorite places with him. I planned the trip as immersive as possible, booking Airbnbs in small medieval towns and skipping the big cities for the most part. In Tuscany we struggled with the language. I know some Spanish and very little French, and Italian leans a bit French so supplementing my weak Italian was pretty rough. We received a lot of blank stares as well as a lot of things we didn’t mean to order and struggled when it came to navigating the roads. In Positano pretty much everyone spoke English and we could walk (and climb zillions of stairs) everywhere.
Do you know which place we enjoyed more? The struggle. We enjoyed being uncomfortable and appreciated that things weren’t made easy for us and we were able to really soak in the culture and experience the beauty in everything.
I know Tanzania is going to be tough for me. I’m traveling alone, to a continent I’ve never been to, to volunteer by myself with an organization that I don’t know a soul at. I’ve gotten 8 shots and two prescriptions. I’ll have to wear certain clothes and have everything I say translated. I have no idea if I’m even going to be good at teaching Tanzanian women or if my business skills make any sense at all for their culture.
I want that cosmic perspective
People say that I shouldn’t volunteer abroad, because there are people “in my own backyard” that need help. I feel sorry for how close minded they are. Of course I feel as though taking care of people in my community is important—and I do. But do you ever hear people talk about “saving America?” Do you ever hear people specifically discuss America’s climate change? Saving the environment of the United States of America? No. You hear shit like: Save the Earth! Save the Planet! and Global Warming. Why in the world would you want to save the air, the oceans and the ice caps of this world but not the people?
We are all in this together on this giant spinning ball in our solar system, in our galaxy, in our great big universe and that is how I choose to see it. You can care about what you choose to care about and I will care about what I care about.
Why in the world would you want to save the air, the oceans and the ice caps of this world but not the people?
I want to give back
I’m not disillusioned into thinking my contribution is going to be Earth shattering. I’m only going for 3 weeks. The work I’ll be able to do in that time is minimal. The impact I’ll be able to make I’m sure, is minimal. I get that, even though I’m hoping for more. I do not believe that I’m going to swoop into Africa on a golden horse and change the lives of every Tanzanian woman I come in contact with. And really, the thought that I’m most likely going to gain more from this trip, than I’ll ever be able to give, is incredibly humbling.
But maybe I will help someone. Maybe a fellow volunteer will be changed by my presence or I’ll inspire someone else to get out of their own backyard to volunteer their time to something worthy. Maybe I’ll inspire someone to do more in their community. Or maybe I’ll make a lifelong friend in one or several of these women.
I want inspiration
I’ve realized something about myself recently and it’s that I need something bigger. I’ve always been a big fan of self-empowerment for women and everything about this trip feeds that passion. I need to do more than just make money and die. I also have realized recently I have a lot of work to do on myself. This seems like the perfect time to get going on that.
Nothing anyone can say will crush my desire to do this. Nothing will snuff out the flame I have for my purpose that is driving me to do this. And no one can take away the feelings or experiences I’ll have in my heart afterwards.
Have you ever volunteered abroad? Where did you go and what was your experience?
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