Why would one volunteer in a developing country? For me as a Catholic, it was a combination of a “call” from God to be a missionary, an international volunteer, a humanitarian worker and, most of all, doing something positive and making a difference in the world that we live in.
As with any volunteer venture, one always feels much better about oneself as a result. It is a feeling that may surprise you with respect to its passion and effect on your life. Obviously, the most important result of your volunteering is that you are helping someone. Apart from the specific assistance you are providing, I believe Australians need to get out in the world, not only to experience other people and cultures, but also to have them experience you. This is the main focus of Palms Australia, promoting a better understanding between Australians and other people of the world, and especially transferring professional skills to locals so that all projects can be locally sustainable.
As a Palms volunteer working in Asia and in Africa, there have been challenging moments, when not everything went well, but overall they were wonderful life-changing events for me. Travelling to developing countries provides a perspective on how you live as well as how others live. Learning about another culture, not as a tourist, but as an active participant, is a wonderful experience. Throughout my years of international volunteering and humanitarian work, the thing that stands out is that people can be happy without many of the material things we consider necessary in Australia.
My volunteering experiences have taught me to always switch my mind over to a “here I am, what can I do” frame of mind. This has helped me to be more flexible and more patient. My flexibility, adaptation and patience have prepared me to do what is necessary, not what I think I should be doing.
At the moment, I am working as an Educator for Holy Family Care Centre in the far north of South Africa, where the OLSH Sisters are caring for HIV/AIDS orphans and other at-risk children. The age of the children ranges from 6 weeks old to 17 years of age. I live in the same compound with the sisters, the local staff and the children. Even though I am an Educator for this care centre, I also have many informal roles ranging from liaising between the centre and the schools to teaching music.
As Johann Wolfgang Van Goethe has said: “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.”, therefore, I would wholeheartedly recommend volunteering to individuals or even families. I think everyone should help the community in which they live, but to volunteer in other countries, especially in developing countries, can be a unique and amazing addition to your life.
Thuy is now volunteering with Holy Family Care Centre in South Africa, her third placement with Palms Australia, having previously volunteered in Timor-Leste.