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Volunteering-an exploration in personal, self development

By 5 years ago
Categories Kerala

This is my second volunteering post. Last year, I spent 1 month in Shimon, Kenya, Africa. I loved it there—the people, the weather, the challenge, but I found that one month was a little short. Just as I was getting into the swing of things, and learning everyone’s name, it was time to go. So, this year, I signed up for 3 months, in Ft. Kochi, Kerala, India, wondering if this might give me the time to really find out what the country was about, and to get to know my students.

I must confess, that at times during this 3 months, I felt that I couldn’t endure another week. Why, you might be asking—well, it comes down to human interaction. On this project, most of the “vols” came for 2 weeks. Good for them, but I am not so sure about good for the project. Everyone came with great intentions, and positive attitudes. By about the 4th day, reality set it. Jet lag, culture shock, co-operative living, heat and the work itself began to eat away at each individual’s original intention for volunteering in the first place. This is NOT home! This is a place where each person has to put others first and as Covey says, “seek first to understand, and then to be understood”. It is a time to re-visit the notion of “living in the question”, and coming to some common understandings, respect and open and direct communication. As a long time resident, I could almost predict who would have a good experience, and who would get sick, and be miserable. Those folks with an open, positive outlook, a willingness to try new things, energy, compassion and enthusiasm had an enormously enriching experience. The others, well, just the opposite-they got sick, they complained and they had a miserable time.

The reason for coming—helping and supporting my students, however, always brought me back to my reality, and I overlooked, in large part, what the rest of the “vols” were into. Negativity breeds negativity, and it is a very dangerous and black hole to be avoided, at all cost. Thankyou, Manipur children!!

My greatest moment came last Friday when I took my two little charges out for a walk around the school yard. We did this when I first came, during the week of January 14. I asked them what they saw—they said about 3 things each. Then we sat down, and they proceeded to draw tiny little pictures of “something”, but not of the things they had mentioned. I should tell you that these two probably hadn’t been in school, although they were 6/7, and I should tell you that their native tongue was not spoken here—so it was pretty tough!! On “THE FRIDAY”, we did the same exercise—what do you see? I told them they had to use the sentence, “ I see a_____”, and I would scribe. I could hardly keep up with the 50 items that these kids could see. I transcribed them, and the children drew pictures. They loved to read the words that they had spoken. They loved to spell the words, and they loved to go over and over it. Smiles, giggles, and self confidence reigned supreme. This was the moment we had been working for!! How fulfilling—how spiritual—how rewarding—no amount of money in the world could have made us happier!! Those two were “launched”.

The time for this project is nearly over, and I have made it though, wiser, and older. I am reassured in my beliefs that issues must be dealt with face to face, and that open and honest communication is the best policy. Kindness, respectfulness and selflessness are key in your work as a volunteer. And, believe me, it is work. If you think volunteering is a time to do as you please, think again. Volunteering means working for the higher reward—whatever that means to you. Money has no meaning in this volunteer realm!! Always remember why you came, and never forget it!