When people ask me which came first, the chicken or the egg, I immediately answer: India. Before I even thought about volunteering, I had already decided to travel India. I was just looking for resources and possibilities. And volunteering turned out to be a hit. I could not miss that opportunity.
Why not just a vacation?
Hardly anyone can afford holidays longer than two weeks during the academic year. Or while working full time. That is why I was stubbornly looking up the opportunities for a longer trip to India. I didn’t want to go there just on holiday. I didn’t want to visit for two weeks, frustrated that I won’t be able to see anything. In order to say that I saw India, I needed a lot more time. I needed months, if not years. The area of India is ten times larger than Poland, not to mention the population. I can’t rationally explain where did such an enchantment of India came from. All the cultural and economic diversity that this place had to offer simply attracted me like a magnet.
How to volunteer?
Many people have asked me organizational questions about the trip. Here I would also like to raise it. The organization that was in charge of my trip from A to Z was AIESEC. It is a thriving student organization that offers 3 programs: Global Volunteer, Global Entrepreneur and Global Talent. Each project has a different duration and purpose. Nevertheless, I would like to focus on the first program, Global Volunteer.
Global Volunteer is a program for everyone aged 18-30 which lasts from 6 weeks up to 3 months. After choosing the destination country of volunteering, a lot of offers will pop up. You may be volunteering in public institutions (schools, hospitals) or in various types of non-profit organizations. After creating your profile, all you have to do is select an offer, apply, have an interview with the person responsible for your volunteering and get ready to leave! The process is really simple. In addition, AIESEC, who deals with your trip, will answer all your questions (even the stupidest ones).
So what will it be like?
When I decided to leave, I was a fresh-baked freshman. The monotony of studying slowly began to fall on me. The first frustrations caused by studying at a public university had begun. There was a need to deal with something more practical than theoretical. Hence I needed a break. The idea emerged very spontaneously, but its implementation sprouted in my head for quite a long time. There were a lot of questions and doubts. However, at some point I realized that these doubts would not be dispelled by anything other than leaving on the trip itself.
I applied to three programs offering volunteering in India. The next day I received acceptance of one of these three applications and, without thinking for a long time, I confirmed my participation. A moment later I paid for the program (symbolic 100 USD to support the organization) and went to tell my parents that I was going to India. At the age of 20, my parents were still not accustomed of my “becoming an adult and independent woman” process. A quick conversation ensured them with my security and the only worry they had to deal with was their exclusion from my decision making process. Being that, three months later I was on a plane to India.
While my friends were just starting the 4th semester, I started my life adventure. I must add that although I love to travel, my first days are always terribly hard. Apart from culture shocks, I just struggle with adaptive problems. Always at the beginning of the trip, I doubt “why would I ever leave from my comfort zone?”. Therefore I spent the first week of volunteering tormenting myself with questions:
“Why me? Everyone could be in my place right now. Do you know that everything you are doing could have been done 10 times faster and more efficiently by any better educated Indian? You really traveled half the world to be doing marketing and fundraising? And when you fail the semester due to your two-month trip, what is going to happen? The children from India that you are helping are going to come and save you? ”
Where does the doubt come from?
One might think: why would people doing something so selfless and meaningful have reasons to be bothered by these kinds of doubts? Right to the point.
We live in a society that promotes norms and rules. The society which will frown upon teenagers deciding not to study. Or people not going to the church on Sunday. Society that will frown upon you following your dream and choosing a different path than the rest. In other words, anything out of the ordinary is condemned. And if not condemned then at least not supported. My decisions and ideas often meet with reactions: “it’s crazy”, “maybe wait a few more years”, “but nobody does that”, “focus on important things”. But in the end there is no decision I regret. Everything I do, I do with passion and it works out best for me. Of all the people close to me, I can count on one hand the people who will always say: “What a great idea Julia! Do what makes you happy.” It means something, right?
The doubt comes from you, my dear ones. From society. From everyone who cannot get away from the patterns. It comes from the people not capable of looking at life from a broader perspective. The pressure you impose is enormous. I am not writing this to ask for your support. Because I have already learned to live without it. I am writing about it with your friends and families in mind. Don’t make fun of their dreams. Don’t undercut their enthusiasm. Please support. Be for them. Otherwise, you will create conformists without ambition. And I doubt that’s what you want.
Breaking the ice
As the days went by, I began to answer all the questions one by one. I began to understand. I started to believe. However, the most difficult question clung on. Why me? Eventually the answer came to that also. It wasn’t until the end, but it turned out to be the most important of all the others.
While I was slowly adapting to the new environment, culture shock began to decrease in intensity. My Indian host family soon stopped being only a host family and became a family of flesh and blood.
At work, however, continued preparations for weekend fundraising. We were staying in the office from noon till the night, but it did not bother anyone, because it was more like hooking up with friends and working together on something meaningful rather than working. Everyone was very involved and we all wanted the fundraiser to perform at its best. Strongly promoted by us event was also the day when a swing for the disabled was to be installed in the park. Exactly. A swing that a wheelchair can enter. It was an idea that, throughout my whole life, filled with many thoughts, did not appear in my head even once. At the end, not only adults can carry the disability, isn’t that right?
The event that we managed to carry through exceeded my wildest expectations. This incredible atmosphere that prevailed there exceeded my expectations. The park with all the craft decorations made by the volunteers themselves exceeded my expectations. Happiness that gushed from everyone who worked hard on fundraising exceeded my expectations. It all took my breath away. I felt high. All of the sudden I understood that this is what gives me a sense of accomplishment. I felt overwhelming joy. Looking at HUNDREDS of people who came to drink coffee just to support the organization. And all this of this thanks to us. Tears rose to my eyes. Everyone was curiously looking at me. I, a person who hasn’t stopped jumping, singing and laughing all day, suddenly started to cry. But these were tears of happiness. Such that I have never experienced in my life. I discovered myself and my life calling.
Less me, more others
Six weeks was not enough. From the perspective of time and of my numerous travels, I am beginning to understand how blessed I was to meet such exceptional volunteers. The organization at which I volunteered, Zero Gravity, became my family and a living inspiration. Creating such a foundation, with people full of enthusiasm, filled with contagious motivation and commitment, people spreading the love all around – is to create something beautiful.
Volunteering in India was the most inspiring experience I had the opportunity to experience. All because of the cultural contrast I lived to see, the poverty seen with my proper eyes, and the people. People who taught me that life is beautiful. That we are very lucky to be living like we do. But they also taught me that we don’t have to feel bad about it. They taught me that this is a privilege that we must make most of. Which we have to share.
Why? Because the girls from the shelter (gallery) were given only illnesses, manipulators, dirt and a holey staircase. The fact that they have a roof over their heads is a miracle. The fact that the stairs are no longer holey is a doing of Zero Gravity. But there are millions of such girls. And extra millions of boys. Not to mention the adults. People need us. Not just the ones thousands of miles away. Your loved ones need you. Your not so loved need you. There are plenty of people who could use some support.
What if I really cannot afford volunteering abroad?
Volunteering abroad is a unique experience but it is not a necessary to help somebody. I think that when you ask yourself who you could help, thousands of ideas pop up to your head in five seconds just like Google search results. It’s time for change. Time to act. Time to focus a little bit more at the others instead of focusing at yourself. Start looking around and you will surely find something that you can help with.
However, we can ignore the matter. We can keep striving at our best at the cost of helping others. But mass ignorance will not lead us to anything good. We know this from the environmental and climate problems we are currently facing. We know this from the prevailing epidemics. And also from everything that would have risen to rank of a grand problem if we hadn’t fought it together. And there is a lot of the examples. You may be asking yourself, but why me? There are millions of people who can help. I can take care of my career path, my plans, my cravings. You can. I will not write a lecture about “the more us the simpler and faster are changes”, “the more us the easier it is for a better world without inequality, hunger, poverty or misery”. Because you probably know that.
But I will write why it is you, who should embark on a mission to save the world. Because I was asking myself the question “why me?” and I did finally find the answer. I want to share it because I think it’s very important.
Why you? Because no one else can replace you. Your commitment, your sense of humor, your energy – it’s all unique. Because each of you is unique. Perhaps you and your pair of hands are needed somewhere in the world. Maybe it is needed “in your yard”. Or maybe it’s not the matter of a job you can do; maybe it’s your personality itself. Maybe somewhere in the world, a person is waiting to meet you. Is waiting to be inspired by you. To be changed and to undertake important decisions. To implement life changes. Because it is just enough.
If you want to start your adventure with volunteering, I recommend getting in touch with AISEC from your city. If you have specific questions about my trip, please contact me. But first of all remember, whatever decision you undertake, it will be the correct one!