Flight Centre’s Media & Communications Manager, Allison Wallace, recently took her first trip with GoVoluntouring to Guatemala where she worked on the Project Somos Children’s Village and visited the ARCAS Sea Turtle Conservation Project. During that trip, certain recurring themes appeared that provided a perspective she expects will resonate throughout all aspects of her life, not just when travelling. Here are the Top 10 things she learned:
“Everything I ever needed to know…I learned from my first GoVoluntouring experience” – Allison Wallace
1. Come with an open mind…and an open heart
In most instances, voluntourism projects abroad are based in second and third world countries. It’s important to keep an open mind about not only the type of work required of you but also the cultural differences that you may face. The more you open yourself up to new ideas, the more rewarding your experience will be. When everyone is working toward a common goal that is benefitting those in need, only good can come of it!
2. Check your Western ideologies at the door
The Western world is blessed with an abundance of the basic necessities of life along with access to the latest fads & gadgets. This doesn’t necessarily mean our way is the right, or best, way. It’s easy to get caught up in our ethnocentric views when faced with the inconvenience of restricted internet and phone access, cold showers and limited selection at the grocery store. However, it was plainly obvious that despite the people we met having literally nothing in comparison to us, they had a joy toward life and family that is a rare commodity in the West.
3. Surrender to “T.I.G”
When things didn’t go as planned, the mantra taught to us by Chris Buckshaw from El Camino Voluntours was “Hey, T.I.G. (This Is Guatemala).” The same can be said for many countries you’ll visit and the sooner you accept that reality, the sooner you’ll laugh things off and realize in the greater scheme of things that most of them weren’t really a big issue to begin with.
4. Get rid of your watch
There is something incredibly liberating about taking off your watch and truly living in the moment. Time takes on a whole new dimension in places that don’t rely on technology to get you through the day and you know you’ve truly succeeded when you completely forget what time it is, or even the day of the week.
5. Embrace the unexpected and unplanned
During all of my travels, my greatest memories are never of the iconic man-made or natural wonder I visit, but always from an unplanned situation—whether it be a wrong turn that led to a hidden gem of a place or a chance meeting that led to a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
6. Experience genuine generosity
The poorest people I’ve met are often the most generous. I’ve learned that people with little money or things, place a much greater value on ‘needs’ over ‘wants’ and always put family & friends first.
7. Find the balance
Don’t get too overwhelmed by the seemingly insurmountable challenges. Celebrate the small victories—one turtle egg saved from a poacher, one plastic bottle removed from the ground, one new person being made aware of an important project—every single act DOES make a difference and it has to start somewhere. More often than not you’ll inspire someone without even realizing it.
8. Find a purpose that resonates with YOU
There are an endless number of worthwhile projects in the world doing essential work. Whether you’re passionate about wildlife conservation, teaching abroad, or helping construct homes for the needy, find what speaks to you and let that passion drive you to do it.
9. Do SOMETHING.
If you can’t volunteer your time on a specific project on the ground consider other ways to assist such as donating something from their wish list, spending time understanding their issue, helping raise awareness toward their cause or supporting events that help finance them. Ask any charitable organization and they’ll tell you that help comes in many forms that are equally important.
10. “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” –Mahatma Ghandi
I think that says it all.
Looking for more information on volunteering on your next trip? Check out www.govoluntouring.com for info on the types of programs available and common questions you should ask before deciding which program is right for you.