Feb 28, 2013

Volunteering On A Global Scale

"Why would you volunteer to another country if there are enough communities and projects in need of man power here in the Philippines?"

When I was moderating the Q&A portion of a youth congress earlier, that question particularly caught my attention, not because I'm guilty of it, but because it was asked by three different people - different structures but same idea. (Context: The audience was asked to send their questions.)

Those questions were addressed to AIESEC, the largest youth organization in the world which sends young volunteers and interns around the globe, and to the ASEAN Youth Volunteers Network which encourages and facilitates volunteerism around the region.

It is easy to see that the question points to a more practical approach to volunteerism. Oo nga naman, why spend thousands of pesos/euros to teach Italian kinds English if there is a scarcity of qualified teachers here in the country? Why waste resources and talent for those na hindi naman natin "kadugo"?

I'll answer the question based from my own experience as a former youth representative of our country to the Global Ecovillage Network for Oceania and Asia.

First of all, it's more fun to work within an international community. The Japanese, Thai, Indian, Sri Lankan... volunteers that I worked with aren't very fluent when it comes to English so we laugh often and smile a lot! (Parang high lang?) Stories are exchanged in camp fires under the stars, and since music is a language that transcends all races, there are a lot of singing and dancing.

Conversations, generally, have more substance as compared to talking to a fellow country man. Most likely, you'll veer away from conversations on politics, sports or entertainment since you don't have much in common in those fields. They say that great people talk about ideas and more often than not, your conversations will revolve around ideas on leadership, community development, and making the world a better place.

Volunteering abroad gives you fresh perspectives on social issues. Your understanding of poverty may be different from those of the Japanese. Or a successful social model in Australia may not be as useful here in our country because we're an archipelago. So when you go back here, you'll be able to see corruption in a new light or you'll be able to discover new ways on how to market eco conscious living to high school students because of those differences and the hands on experiences you got from let's say from an Ashram in Thailand.

Of course, you get to travel a lot and learn about the culture of a foreign land. But more importantly, you'll get to know yourself better. There was a time when I was only with two other Filipinos surrounded by delegates from Asia and Australia, and I felt really proud of my country. I didn't know that I had it in me to be so patriotic, if only I brought a barong! Also, I did not know that I can be independent, nor that I can survive a week eating Indian vegetarian cuisine.

The work becomes more meaningful because you are in a situation dictated not by geography nor by demographics, but by choice. I want to build a self sustaining micro community and so as the people around me, that's why I'm here. Sharing a similar purpose connects you to everyone down to your core and the joy in those experiences I guess becomes more significant.

So the argument "why waste resources and talent for those na hindi naman natin kadugo?" becomes insignificant because a shared sense of purpose with those people whom you barely know widens your horizons on who your "real brothers or sisters" are. Barriers will be overlooked as you all work for the common good.

So before you are tied down because of your job or your family, try to travel with a purpose bigger than your own. Expose yourself to the unknown. You'll soon find out that if you have good intentions, people and circumstances will act favorably no matter where in the world you're in. 

Dare to move!

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