02 March 2007, 14:30
by Mike Morris
Volunteers extracting a boat in Thailand. (Mike Morris, 2007)
I have volunteered in several different facets in several different cultures, and therefore have experienced many of the best and worst aspects of such endeavors.
I have experienced the indescribable heartbreak of losing a child (not my own) for whom I tried my utmost to save; the extreme frustration of being told that I can not help if I’m not with an “official organization”; the dodginess of being in a very unstable, even volitile and hostile, environment due to political unrest. Being told of having a bounty on my head because I was a westerner in an Islamic country during the “cartoon” riots; being forcibly put under house arrest under the watchful eye of a soldier with an AK-47; arguing and pleading with the UN for food, supplies and medicine for survivors of an earthquake and being told to come back after the weekend since it was a Friday.
At the same time, I have felt the highs of finishing a project that you know will help someone who otherwise would not have been helped. Seeing the smile on the face of a fisherman, who, having lost everything due to natural disaster, has been given his livelihood back in the form of a new fishing boat. Raising enough money (a relative pittance in western measures) to be able to build a school for very needy children in the mountains devastated by earthquakes. Helping hand out rations of food to refugees in tent camps and seeing little boys and girls carry their weight in food back to their families.
The people I met through my efforts was perhaps the most uplifting aspect of all. How people from around the world came to help those who needed it the most, often at great sacrifice to themselves. Volunteers who gave up jobs, money, possessions, even relationships just so they could stay longer and help as much as they could. Living in tents with survivors who have lost everything and everyone, yet still offer you the only piece of chicken as you are their guest. As a good friend put it: “We were all part of something that was bigger than any single one of us.” I will be friends with many of the people I volunteered along side with for the rest of my life, as the bond you forge with people in such circumstances can not be broken. I couldn’t be more proud to have them as my friends.
In all, I can’t imagine ever being the person I was before I volunteered. Having your eyes opened to the inequalities of the world may be a blessing and a curse at the same time, but I wouldn’t go back to the ignorance I fostered for anything in the world.
All I really want to say is that it is absolutely within our power to help others who are less fortunate in life. Those, who by shear misfortune, were born into a life of poverty, disaster, AIDS, and political instability. That by offering a small amount of time and effort, we can positively effect others exponentially. And I promise you, we will be much, much richer for having done so.
Note: One of the most rewarding things you may do in your life is to volunteer. However, there is a lack of information on how to volunteer, especially abroad in disaster zones. Check out our pages on Volunteering, as well as the Pakistan Earthquake and the Indian Ocean Tsunami. You can find out how to help, or let us know your experiences.