Setting out on a mission, doing voluntary work is not an easy task, being in a poor country surrounded by poverty leads to a culture shock makes it quite hard. You need to stomach seeing poor children and people, seeing the bad conditions they live in and the difficulties they encounter in life. Why would you want to do voluntary work? To help, to make a difference, one would normally reply. But the irony is that normally you go to teach and you end up learning more that you give. Here are a few lessons that a volunteer would learn when on a mission.
Lesson 1: Go to BE not to DO
Your aim on going on a mission is to HELP and to DO, but soon you realise that you should not to go to do but just to BE. The mission involves you draining yourself of what you know, so that you could go down to their level, start from the very basics so that you can earn their trust and this will allow people to relate to you which would eventually lead to trust.
Lesson 2: Your time not resources
Volunteers aiming to go teach English for example spend so much money on photocopies, it is such a waste, this money could be used for medicine or food. Resources like photocopies are useless, it’s not like they have files to file them in or shelved at home to store them on. Sometimes a dance to a simple English song not only helps them to learn the language but it is fun too. Simply giving them your time, is enough. Not doing much makes you feel worth being there when you see the genuine smiles on the locals’ faces and the energetic way they greet you in the morning.
Lesson 3: Appreciation
Once you go to a country like Ethiopia for example you will learn the best lesson of all, that of appreciation. You will stop winging about not having shoes to match your dress, when you know they are barefooted or naked altogether daily. You will stop buying extra clothes when you know people there have worn the same clothes for years. You would start appreciating the fact that you have a sink with readily available water, unlike them who need to walk 3km to get it and carry it in very heavy tanks over their shoulders. You will appreciate your parents more, as there people die from diseases by the hour. You start to appreciate you have a medicine chest to cure your simple headache, when they do not have the meds to cure serious diseases. You will appreciate the butcher and the shops that you can buy ready made food buy from, while they need to hunt and kill their animals to eat.
Lesson 4: We create beggars
If you gave a chocolate today to someone who has never tasted it and he will not find it tomorrow, he will become a beggar. It is hard to see someone on the streets and not share or give money or food, but this is something that volunteers should learn and be strong at. Your aim as a volunteer is not to keep encouraging them to beg but to make them work and earn the money. So having children selling tissues or other things on the streets, even when you know they are overpriced, it is great to buy, this way you are teaching them you earn money when you negotiate, but money should not be given out freely. In Ethiopia I met someone who was spoilt rotten by volunteers, his family was poor but had a DVD player and a TV, something that the volunteers before me had bought him, something useless, this has made him a beggar and become even greedier, he asked me and my team for an iPhone, OMG not even I owned one! The ones who respect volunteers the most are the ones who never received any presents what so ever. So this is a great lesson for all of you, do not give money away freely, pay for a shoe shine, a pack of chewing gum or a post card, as long as we teach them that they need to work for the money.
Lesson 5: Am I happy?
We have everything in life, even when we mumble about being broke, we are rich. Unfortunately we are rich only in materialism, these people, even though poor are rich in happiness. They have nothing, they do not have much to eat, barley a shelter over their heads and not even their health as most have some type of disease. Yet they are happy. You see them smile genuinely, you never hear them grumble and this makes you think, am I truly happy?
Lesson 6: Teach the Basics
People in these countries do not know any better, it is useless giving them a fishing rod if you do not show them how to use it. It is useless giving them a mosquito net if you do not show them what it is used for. When teaching them something or giving them something for the first time make sure you go down to their level, wipe anyway anything you know and teach them baby steps. The satisfaction you feel when teaching them how to fish, they actually catch and make a meal out of it, is priceless.
Lesson 7: Use their resources
It is useless giving them a ball, if after a few it will bust and become useless and can’t have another one. It is better to create things that they can do themselves from their own resources. For example creating a rattle from tree branches and bottle caps, or creating swings from used tyres.
All of you should experience the beauty of missionary work, the beauty of their culture and country. The experience and lessons learnt will leave you speechless and a changed person, all I can say is that being there was one the happiest time of my life.