Perhaps you have considered volunteering as a way to contribute. To offer assistance, expertise or consultation where it might be most appreciated. Many folks today have skills, experience or knowledge they would be willing to share. Some have a compassionate desire to be of service. Whether as a student with a desire to see another culture, learning some new skills or as a retired individual who wishes to pay it forward or give back the support they received, volunteering can be extremely rewarding, culturally enlightening and progressively sustainable towards a Better World for us all.
What’s it like to go abroad? To volunteer in some foreign land, far away from the familiar? As a younger man I considered the possibility occasionally. Almost immediately I would quickly talk myself out of the possibility as being too expensive, too dangerous and possibly decadent or frivolous. How easily I judged myself! What fear I held!
The reality, now that I’m here in Cameroon Africa, is that those expectations and assumptions have not been my experience. Certainly one can find oneself in dangerous situations, at night in a back alley in any large city, walking alone in dodgy neighbourhoods or flashing your bankroll naively in bus depots or train stations… even back home!. Common sense and some research is the antidote to that. As for expensive? Once I arrived it became relatively easy to live on much less than it would take to survive back in the northern/western world. In fact I’m living quite comfortably, especially compared to most local folks. Decadent and frivolous? Unlikely. Because I have committed to a relatively long stay I’m contributing to the local economy by purchasing food and shelter just like everyone else. At home I rarely went out for meals, here I can afford it more often. We walk or take taxis like the rest of the populace. I admit I sometimes pay the double fare so I don’t have to share the front seat with two (or three!) other people but my legs are long and the cars are not.
It is satisfying and rewarding to be here volunteering, providing assistance, direction, suggestions and labour in creating a Better World. I don’t pretend to be an expert but I do have skills, knowledge and experience and as limited as it is, it is valued here. I carry water, push wheelbarrows, document our progress with photography and clean up with everyone else.
The people we’ve met have been consistently friendly, honest, appreciative and welcoming. We are considered family, a wonderful feeling.
The cultural differences, language and attitudes can take some adjustment. They are also eye opening and potentially mind expanding. Learning a new language or even new ways of communicating ideas keeps me cognitively sharp. I appreciate learning how the people express themselves culturally, exposed to heritage and traditions that have determined their identity. The world is an immense collection of values, beliefs and experiences. Coming here I have had the opportunity to taste, smell and touch another reality, another possibility, another way to be.