Get Your Hands Dirty While You See the World

I started volunteering when I was in grade 5. It all began with patrolling the school yard during recess as a Conflict Manager. We wore neon orange armbands (with Velcro!) and got training to help younger students resolve problems by talking it out. At that time, I also got involved with student council and joined a group of artsy students to help design a new school logo. It wasn’t long before I was addicted. I would volunteer consistently for the rest of my academic career. High school and university were filled with committees, councils, events, fundraisers, food banks, homes, shelters, and lots of adventures in giving!

Then just before third year university I caught the travel bug. It started with a youth trip to Rome and Germany. Then I did a semester abroad: three months studying with 19 other Canadian students at the University of Havana. And Boom! My second addiction was set in motion—travelling!

Imagine my joy when I discovered that I could do the two things I love at the same time! Fast forward 10 years later and voluntourism is a big buzz word now. You can pretty much do anything while travelling nowadays. There are language programs, adventure tours, eco-tours, and combinations of everything in between. I’ve succumbed to vacations over the years, spent a careless weekend in Vegas, and had the adrenaline rush of rafting down rapids in remote places. But my favourite way to see the world will always be to work and contribute while globetrotting—something I’ve done on multiple occasions over the years. Each experience has left a lasting impression, a changed perspective, and a new appreciation.

Most recently, I led a group of 20 teens on a volunteer and adventure trip through Ecuador and the Galapagos. We volunteered at nearly every spot we stopped in. Our last destination was a local high school. The beauty of volunteering is this: When you think you’ve done so little, you’ve most likely done SO much more! If I told you we painted the outside of the school houses with big, bright blue waves, raked  and cleaned the gardens, moved rocks, and picked up garbage, would you think much of it?

But the reality is that our teens connected with the local teens, set a positive example, showed that they cared about something outside of themselves, and demonstrated through actions that this school was important to people on the other side of the world. Our group and the local students made friends, told jokes, talked about what each of their countries was like, played basketball together, and walked away with a new appreciation of one another. Sounds a lot more like a solid foundation for making the world a better place than a beautification project… doesn’t it?


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