The academic year has officially begun, and if campus-active volunteer associations are anything like they used to be, most of you would have had the pleasure of a paused lecture in the honour of Turtle conservation in Costa Rica, or Elephant protection in South Africa.
Scurrying out from class, there is always a lingering few who eagerly grab one of the poorly printed flyers, stash it in their bag and save it for a rainy day, when the need to finally accumulate some good karma arises.
If you have ever considered volunteering overseas, you will be familiar with the idea of coming back after a summer abroad with a tan, enhanced world-view and the recollection of a memory-charged indie-film in which you are the star. But there is no need for this hypnotic daydream to remain inside your head, not now anyway!
Volunteering is almost second nature now, and the opportunities to lend a hand both locally and internationally couldn’t be better. Even here at Monash the chance to learn and make things in the pursuit of generosity are many. Unfortunately many of us believe we need to cross three time zones and stop-over in Kuala Lumpur in order to make a real difference.
But I don’t blame you, from people that have actually pursued these lustful ambitions to volunteer overseas, I am hearing that the experience is far more profound than I could have ever imagined – apparently, leaving with stubborn sweat patches in your oldest t-shirts, and foreign dirt engrained in your Nike Frees, are just the beginning.
Because really, the stars will never look the same after you have watched them dance in the Sahara night sky, nor will a cool breeze be as comforting as it were, after a sweltering day laboring under a tropical sun. You will remember learning the greatest lessons without a transfer of words, and feel the deepest love for strangers that turn into long-life friends you may never see again.
Such morsels are priceless, and while they say “travel is the only thing you can buy that can make you richer”, I would like to think that adding volunteering to any travel adventure denotes an even greater value. Consider the ownership of responsibility for issues greater than those that impact you directly, and the valuable experience of feeling unconditional love and generosity from and for people that live in a non-recognisable world. All these simply cannot be expressed in words.
While what we bring to the table is the knowledge of a fast world led by consumerism, indulgence, ambition and comfort, our native friends enlighten us to a real appreciation of what we actually take for granted.
Inevitably, the experience is so much more than a trip abroad where a foreign language is spoken and breakfast doesn’t include Vegemite. It’s an opportunity to actually feel helpless in the face of problems greater than you’ve ever known. But more than that, it is the chance to further understand the responsibility that us fortunate ones have.
Sheona, the author of this piece, writes for empowerment on her blog at ‘The Sheona Experiment’ @ thesheonaexperiment.com
Image credits: Mary Sherlock