Before heading on the road for my one year long trip I knew that I do not want to ‘only’ travel. As every traveler I wanted my travel, especially THIS travel, to be special and different from any others I did. To be different from what other do. I did not know exactly how I am going to do that but I knew I want.
Music, writing, meeting people, doing activities outside of my comfort zone – everything was there till now. I had my private bucket list. Looking back at past month I have to smile about things that happened. I have now bunch of stories to tell, some are brilliant other funny or scary, showing how I grew into travels and how travels grew into me. But to me the most important are those that let my heart grow and expand.
And it is without doubt – volunteering.
I was not a novice to the subject as I was involved in some ‘ad hoc’ volunteering activities at home. Though going to the foreign country (or rather said – foreign continent) for volunteering is something different. And I started my experience in India.
I remember my first impressions of passing by the cotton fields on a bumpy road in the old jeep without windows driven by a ‘crazy’ Jesuit. All the stuff in the jeep was jumping around including ourselves (and this is actually how my blue guitar, that travelled with me in Indochina ‘went to guitar’s heaven’ on that hot and humid evening – on one of the crazy curves it just fall down and broke). It was at a very beginning of my trip and everything seemed so exciting weird. I arrived to the modest school that was build by Jesuits in a small village of Pannur. I was supposed to spend here 5 weeks.
You can read about poverty, you can try to imagine it but being confronted with it is something different.
This five weeks were testing all my limits. Heat of over 45 degrees, electricity for only 2 hours a day, hand-made shower (if we happened to have water) and ants everywhere. In my clothes, in my books, in my toothbrush. No possibility to cool down which made my body completely weak and myself feeling brainless. After coming from school, where I was teaching children in classes without tables and chairs, without books and notebooks, I wanted just to lay down and do not move till the heat is over. Extreme poverty I could observe was more beyond I could ever imagine reading about it. And though I could not understand how those kids having absolutely nothing can smile in this free and incredibly honest way. Children walking daily barefoot because they did not have the shoes were waiting every evening with wounded foots to be looked after (with the means from my own medical supplies) made me feel so helpless.
Though I do not forget the situation that pictured in my mind when I disinfected seriously wounded feet of one of boys that stepped on the nail. We had no light so somebody had to hold the torch when I was looking for iodine. He came with two ‘buddies’ that helped me with that, assisting without word and being able to support their friend any time. When I finally put the iodine on wounded foot the other boy was delicately blowing on the wound so that it does not hurt so much.
They were brothers in pain those three, you could see it. The next day it could happen again to any of them and only on that way they could help each other. This kind of solidarity melted my heart. Tough are the kids from India. The same boy came few days later and showing my rubbish been asked with gestures to throw the rubbish away. That was his way of saying thank you. There was plenty of moments I wanted to leave but scenes like that just kept me in place. To make a little difference. One by one.
To understand that even if I haven’t done a PhD in stroking the heads this is exactly what those kids are waiting for everyday I am back from work. This is what matters and this I the little difference I can do every day. To one of them. That was enough. That was living the presence. And few weeks of sleeping on the roof under plain heaven full of stars and listening to the breaths of kids around me sleeping peacefully on some pieces of material only were just priceless. I close my eyes and I am there.
This experience in India ‘paid off’ well in Peru in terms of being prepared for whatever comes. With what I knew already from previous experience about being present here and now and watch for the work around I could enjoy the voluntary work here to the fullest. Which does not means that there were no situations that did not annoyed me or brought me out of scope. But still it was sooo rewarding. Being able to speak Spanish with kids also made a difference. And they were so patient and flexible with me as well, trying to understand what I say. And in the moment I thought I was dealing so well we had Spanish volunteers visiting. I could not understand a word. And one of my girls said to them ‘Luiza does not speak a lot of Spanish but she is cool otherwise’. Well at least that:)
In India I was left alone to do whatever I think I could do (what sometimes made me feel helpless ‘fighting’ with cultural differences) which taught me so much that I was explicitly looking for a volunteering possibility where the help is really needed. And I found them. Get up at 6 o’clock, get the kids out of beds (imagine, suddenly I was a mummy of 10 girls), prepare them for school and bring them there, creative cooking for the orphanage of what was in stock, hand washing, receiving kids from school, do homework with them, play, bring them to beds. Honestly, I was ‘dead’ by 9 p.m. But I enjoyed this sensation of tiredness. Maybe I was also simply missing the work.
The orphanages do not have a lot, actually experiencing shortages rather than something else and mostly doing the best out of donations – someone brings clothes, others donate food. Even if themselves they do not have a lot. We got donated yuka yesterday? Let’s see what food we can prepare out of it. And I never heard staff complaining about the situation they are in.
Without doubts what made the volunteering special were also people working at the orphanages. On contrary to ‘traditional’ jobs they showed not only passion about what they do but put their hearts into it. Both, in India and in Peru, people I worked with will just stay in my heart, already only by the way we interacted with each other. Speaking from heart to heart. If you happen to live it once you want to repeat it steadily. And you will surely get friends for life. Not even mentioning new skills you can learn from them.
Also, some of the kids in the orphanages I was working at had really heavy stories behind them (seeing parents being murdered, being abandoned, abused – you do not even want to know all the cases). Stories that could break nerves and hearts of many of adults down. With the help of people working at orphanage they can reestablish trust and get some sunny sights for the future. Knowing that all about them and seeing them smiling was just the best reward. Their gratefullnes has no limits.
Some tips regarding volunteering:
• Choose the way of voluntary work you would like to do well in advance – I choose working with kids but you can chose whatever of your interest
• There is a lot of agencies that offer voluntary work against money you pay for it, which made me feel frustrated looking the possibilities before I hit the road – try to search in advance, be open to what cross your way, look at forums, ask your friends. I ‘found’ India through friend that has been there before and an opportunity in Peru I looked up in some missionary newspapers that I got in my hands ‘by coincident’ (if you believe in coincidences);
• Be sure to ask exactly what will be your work beforehand otherwise
• be prepared to look around what should be done and … do it, otherwise you will experience frustration of being ‘useless’
• do not lie to yourself you gonna save a world – you will not and better you should know that before – but you can save a day (of someone) by little gestures flowing from your heart
• and do not even try to go for volunteering without HEART! You will need it a lot. Do not be afraid to give it away. You will get everything back.
Places to search for volunteering:
Missionares of charity – as in my case in Peru sisters shared with me the food and I got accomodation for free in other places like Kolkata you will probably have to find your own place to sleep and take care of your food (but well India is cheap though)
if you want I can contact you with places I have been to. If you cannot volunteer there is so many other ways to help – by supporting the child through ‘remote adoption’