As my volunteer trip to Peru quickly approaches, I thought I would start to journal some things; both for myself and for anyone that might be interested in following in my footsteps. I’ll publish several posts over the next few months. I’ll hopefully post a few while I’m there, but plan to keep a written journal just in case things are too hectic or WiFi isn’t easily accessible, and I will definitely share a few when I return. Please enjoy, and feel free to share any tips you might have for me as I start to pack!
In early 2015, I decided to seek out some volunteer opportunities. With all of the options available, you would think that it would be an easy task, but it was overwhelming! I had so many things to consider and questions I had to ask myself before I could even take a single step forward. (And for those who don’t know me, I can way overthink and over research things once I start planning; sometimes to the point that I overwhelm myself and end up not doing anything at all.)
Here are just a few that crossed my mind:
- Do I want to stay local or go international?
- Do I mind getting dirty or possibly being in a situation where toilet paper is considered a luxury?
- Do I want to be totally immersed or is this going to be a “Volunteer Vacation”?
- Do I want to work with people or animals?
- What climate am I willing to deal with for at least a week?
- What language barriers can I deal with?
- What safety concerns do I need to consider?
- What is this going to cost!?
I knew I wanted to go big, so I started looking at opportunities in other countries. I never have minded getting dirty or pooping outside (yea, I said it), so as far as living conditions, I was almost open to anything. Climate, eeh…I just didn’t want to go too extreme, so Antarctica and the Sahara were immediately off the list. Safety should always be something that weighs into the mix, even if you’re staying in your home country, so I took some time to research areas that I was interested in and to watch the travel alerts that come across my email every few weeks. I also knew that I wanted to experience the culture wherever I was going, so I had decided to take 3 weeks off work and enjoy myself a little bit too. (I’ll cover cost when I talk about program details and what I’ve learned so far in another post.)
Those were actually the easy decisions. The hard one was determining the type of volunteering I wanted to do, how much of an emotional investment I was willing to make, and what I hoped to personally gain from the experience?
I think that many people believe that volunteering should be completely selfless and maybe even a bit uncomfortable. I also think that is why many people don’t do it! Going into this I knew that I couldn’t think like that. Nobody in their right mind signs up to do things because they’re painful. Volunteering should be just as rewarding for the person volunteering as it is for those that are being helped. In my opinion, it should make me feel good. It should make me a better person. It should remind me to be grateful.
I had to be honest with myself and it was actually kind of hard to admit what I WASN’T willing to sign up for. I felt that I was being very selfish when I was finally honest with myself, but I had come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t ready to work with children or with the elderly. Not because I don’t like them, but because I LOVE them!
Once I decided that I wanted this to be a 3 week trip, I realized that I was not ready to put myself or my heart in a situation where I couldn’t fix all of their problems, take them all home with me, or ensure that when I left they would all be ok. (Keeping in mind that this is something I came to terms with months ago, this has since become an area that I want to focus on, but I’ll talk about that in a later post.)
As selfish and weak as this realization made me feel, I knew it was good that I understood this about myself. I could then focus on something that would put me in an area of need while also giving me the fulfillment that I was searching for. After a ton of research I finally settled on a program through Global Volunteer Network. They operate in many different countries, but the program that was the most exciting to me was their Conservation Zoo program in Peru.
When I think about what I would do if I could start all over again and money were no object, I know I would go into a career with animals. Because I don’t see myself going back to school or taking a job at minimum wage to work my way up in the field, I decided that the next best thing would be to volunteer. And since I’m always looking for opportunities for travel to new and exciting places, this seemed to be made for me!
I had some wonderful email and phone conversations with the coordinators at GVN to discuss how the program works, what kind of flexibility there is if I have to reschedule, what is included, and how much it cost. I then had a heart to heart with Katie. As expected from a good best friend, I was reminded that I keep talking about doing things like this and not jumping on them, usually because I say “its not the right time” or “I’ll keep researching”. I don’t remember if she said these words exactly, but the gist was that I need to shit or get off the pot. She was right. So…I contacted GVN and put my name on the schedule.
This is how I find myself in January 2016, with exactly 100 days between me and a flight to Cusco, Peru. I have so much more to say, but I’m going to save it for the next post where I’ll talk a little more about the program, my costs, and what I’ve done to prepare so far.
Thanks and happy travels!!