Whoever you are, if you’ve met a person who is passionate about volunteerism and helping out, you’ve probably only heard from them about how glorifying it is. How it’s all about happiness and satisfaction of oneself because they are contributing to the community. In fact, probably most of the volunteers you will meet in your life will tell you that volunteering abroad made them feel like they were capable of changing the world! That traveling and helping out actually gave them the sense that nothing is impossible, but the truth is far from that. Volunteers are definitely dedicated to their cause and all, but the mission is not necessarily as easy as we sometimes make it out to be.
1. The more you volunteer, the more helpless you feel
It’s safe to say that most of the people who volunteer are always looking for some sort of satisfaction that is most of the times hardly attained. I’ve been volunteering for 6 years and I can tell you that every volunteer work I took always led me to become more depressed, SO MUCH FOR SELF SATISFACTION RIGHT?! Because it is only when you start volunteering, that you realize that you are way out of your league. You start helping out and you get hit by the ugly truth, that you are never really going to change the world, in fact you are not even going to change the lives of most of the people you are helping out at that moment. The best you are going to get is maybe affect 3 persons out of the 50 you’ve been helping for the past 6 weeks. Quite disappointing, right? You put so much effort and you build your dreams about changing the world and doing good, but it’s only when you are in the situation that you realize that the world is such a nasty place, and that volunteering with one school, with one charity, or one orphanage is not going to fix the education system in the whole world. You are not going to end famine. You are actually not going to change anything really, but maybe improve a few people’s lives a little bit.
2. The people you are helping will most probably not appreciate what you’re doing
You go into that orphanage or that school expecting a round of applause, because after all you are leaving your family, your friends and your life behind to come and help these people. Well, the truth is far from that. Most of the times, you’ll go into the school and the kids aren’t even going to want to listen to what you’re saying. Two summers ago, I was giving workshops about women empowerment and leadership in a public school in Cairo, and I would literally pour my heart out for these little girls and all I got was a “when are we going to be done?” question. That summer, I especially remember giving workshops to more than 60 teenagers, and I can honestly swear to you that only two were interested in what I had to say. The rest of the girls would sit and daydream, because the school had forced them to take the workshop. This summer, while volunteering in Thailand, I was also faced with the same situation. Of course the children were more interested in me because I was a foreigner so they wanted to feed their curiosity, but other than that I’d sit in class and try to teach them a few basic English words and they wouldn’t even bother to repeat after me. I even learned how to say repeat after teacher for them in Thai (Pood Tam Kru) and I would go to every student and be like “pood tam kru, pood tam kru”, and they would literally look the other way and refuse to even acknowledge my existence.
3. You will feel lonely most of the time
This is one of the trickiest parts about volunteering. Don’t get me wrong, you will most probably make amazing friends who share the same mentality as you and you will bond with them like you’ve never bonded with anyone back home. But at some point, you will miss your people, your normal life and the sense of belonging that you have at home, especially because sometimes some volunteer opportunities don’t necessarily have other volunteers, so you will be stuck with the locals and you will always have this language barrier with them if they don’t speak English. There were days when I longed for a real conversation with someone in Thailand. A conversation which goes beyond a simple “you happy?” or a “you hungry” question, but you will deal with it anyway and you will learn for the first time how to really be on your own.
4. You will realize that while your help was needed, the money you spent to give this helping hand could’ve probably been more useful
I’ve always been a believer in the importance of giving a hand by physically being there and doing the work, but it was only when I attended the people’s meeting at the school I was volunteering in that I realized how ridiculous sometimes a helping hand is. There I was in the principal’s room attending the meeting and listening to him while he pleads for 15,000 Bahts to fix the school, and I’d spent more than that on just the airplane’s ticket to get there and give the so called helping hand!
5. You realize that despite all of these hardships, you would most definitely do it all over again
Take it from a person who has been through the worst sometimes, but trust me, even after you realize that you might not have helped as much as you had hoped for or you might not have gotten the appreciation that you thought you would get, you realize you would still do it again. You long for the next volunteer opportunity and the next hand to help, because while you may have only improved one person’s life, but to you this person means the whole world. You realize that yes you will probably never really change the world, but you also learn that you are OK with that because a little betterment in this bitter world is better than no improvement at all!