Thursday, May 21, 2009

No walk in the park

Being a volunteer is hard. Sometimes I wake up at 6:30 in the morning and go to bed at 10:30 at night and all I have to show for my day is a sore back and emotional baggage.

Part of the tough job of being a volunteer is that you rarely see your hard work come to fruition. There is rarely an ending point, a goal that you can meet, or a measurement of your success.

Perhaps that is why it is such a demanding job and one that is not easily recognized by those who have not partaken in something like it.

Last year, for example, I was told the day care centre we were building could be completed in six weeks if we worked hard enough. That was one year ago and the day care centre was not completed until April, almost 11 months after we broke ground. This is Africa, and this is the trouble with a lot of volunteering abroad.

Gardening here is one of the few projects that is visibly sustainable and objective. We build farming plots, mostly they’re gardens for people to grow fresh vegetables. Whether the people use their gardens for subsistence farming or they sell the products they grow, farming plots are an easy and relatively cheap way to create an income and provide for a family in need. Usually it’s as simple as putting up a fence around an already existing plot of land so that chickens and other animals can’t ruin crops.

But the home-based care families that we see will still struggle for income, food and basic necessities long after I’m gone, and the people we’ve seen with opportunistic infections caused by HIV will still be sick. I guess what each of us has to do is keep in mind that not only is volunteering for those we help over the five or six weeks we’re here – it’s also for us.

Last year I grew so much while I was here and when I returned home I made decisions that changed my life for the better. I gained perspective and work ethic and I saw the world in an entirely new light.

My hope is that when I help someone, they’ll pay it forward and be more likely to help someone else. After teaching the 20 year old mother how to wash her baby, maybe she will help other young mothers care for their children – she is responsible enough to ask for help, to go to the clinic, and to vigilantly work to keep her baby healthy.

I told you my goal at the beginning of my expedition was to help you gain perspective – and this video blog is to show you some of the images that I think might do that. Not only is it an example of how difficult some things can be to see, there is also hope in volunteering not only for those you are working to benefit but for yourself when you take on the challenge.

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