When you give because you want to…not because you have to.
My Journey of Volunteering
Helping others has always been natural for me. Observing injustices has always infuriated me.
My dad and I would have lively and long discussions about the unfairnesses in the world, the great divide of the poor and the rich and the problems associated with these imbalances.
Adding to that my personal circumstances, my dysfunctional mother, my responsibility of caring for my brother early on in life. I learned that the world is not fair, and neither are many people in it.
Lucky for me, I had a loving dad and caring grandparents. I grew up with few luxuries, no TV until age 12, no car until I was 13.
My dad worked tirelessly. He went to school for only four years of his life, then the war broke out in 1939, he was nine-years-old. He continued to educate himself after the war ended.
I remember we would sit together many evenings at the kitchen table, my mother and brother asleep. Dad studying German and Math, his most troublesome subjects to pass the Abitur (the high school diploma) so he could take post secondary courses. And I would study alongside with him, loving biology and geography, hating English and French, the tedious studying of vocabulary, the French teacher a beastly woman, the English teacher making fun of me when I messed up the pronunciation.
My dad’s used to say: “If you don’t tackle it, the problem will never go away.”
After our study sessions, we would read together about far away places and about the hardship so many people face all over the world and he told me about Mother Teresa and her work with the missionaries of charity. I had so many questions and he took the time to explain as best he could.
I have one solid memory of these many discussions when I started crying because the story was so sad and unfair once again.
My dad’s words still resonate with me:
“The world is not fair, and people can be very unkind. But you belong in that world, even if its a harsh world. Your sensitivity is not a bad thing, even if your teacher makes fun of you and calls you mimose…
(a sensitive plant, the leaves droop when touched or shaken, defending themselves from harm, and re-open a few minutes later)…but you have to learn, to suck it up sometimes and don’t let everyone see how sensitive you are, because people will use it against you.
I wish it would be different ! We all could learn a bit from Mother Teresa.”
And I learned, hands on.
My two practicums in orphanages in Braunlage, Germany. There were a fair number of unwanted children placed in institutions in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the result of young women not able to cope, themselves not ready to be a parent, not having the financial means, or looking for a way out. The Second World War had destroyed the social safety net, everything had to be rebuild. Many people were in survival mode and birth control (pill) was not common yet.
Especially in my last practicum in Kinderheim Wetzel I deeply bonded with the 25 children in our care. Ranging in age from 6-16years and I was barely 20 years old. I remember the 6 year old boy sobbing every night, with time our little routine of storytime and crawling with him under his covers softened the pain, and a year later he was adopted by a young family for a new start of love. Not everyone was as lucky, nobody wanted the older, troublesome and more rebellious children. Many of them never made it out. Heart breaking to watch.
The summer of 1975, 20 years old with a degree in Social work, untkinkable now, but possible then. I was put in charge of the 25 children and the staff of five, all older than me, but I had the ticket.
A steep learning curve, earning the respect of my co workers a challenge, earning the trust of the children easy.
Why? I could relate them, I tried to be fair and I loved life.
On the campground at the Nordsee (Northern coastline of Germany) magic happened. We had taken 2 VW vans, my co-worker Francois from Lyon, France, he drove one and I the other. We had taken sixteen of the older boys and girls, tents and food. Swimming in the ocean and playing on the beach all day, singing by the campfire every night.
Two weeks of absolute bliss, and it showed me once again that life is what you make of it.
On my last day, Feb. 15, 1976, I said good bye to the children and departed for Canada five days later. A new life!
My parting gift from the children a pair of plastic ice skates…signifying our many trips to the local Ice arena watching the hockey game… yes, there is some ice hockey in Germany!
Life in Vancouver … marriage and becoming a teacher. No jobs locally as school population plummeted in the 1980’s and many schools closed. Hence starting Little Rascals Daycare and Preschool was the logical choice… and an amazing journey in itself.
But…after my second marriage ended, my three sons all grown up … the time was right in 2012 to go back to my early roots.
My two-month trip to Kathmandu, Nepal, volunteering at Nepal Orphans Home was life changing again. With more life experience and more skills I was able to contribute even in this very harsh environment. The lessons of poverty and unfairness deeply rattling me to my inner core. The plight of the Kamlari girls and the Maoist child soldier boys, details everyone should know.
I returned to Nepal two more times, always with Manon, my co-worker at Little Rascals, my travel companion for extraordinary experiences from chasing rats on our trek to Everest, swimming with dolphins in Bali and living in trains and buses in India on our 28 day low budget sightseeing/volunteer trip. That trip, forever edged in my mind, the beauty of the landmarks, the camaraderie of our fellow 6 volunteers, our two terrific Indian male leaders protecting us in this world where women are not equal, the feisty children in the slum schools in Goa, the sad teaching techniques of some teachers in the School for the “Deaf and Dumb” (words above the school entrance) in Udapour. Throwing in the towel the last week and shipping out to a hotel to recover from travel diareah. Soooo very happy to come back home to safe and beautiful Vancouver.
Reading about Africa when I was a little girl paved the way for my next volunteer adventure in October 2016. This one to Tanzania and expanding my horizons.
Teaching Math to young women at Give A Heart to Africa, an empowerment NGO to help women gain more skills to carry on with more education and learn entrepreneural skills to become self sustainable.
Those nine weeks of teaching and connecting opened another path … the path of empowerment.
What can I do?
How can I use my life skills to connect with people and help them connect with each other?
Can I inspire others to learn and find ways to make their lives better, to truly live to the highest of their potential, all uniquely different based on where we live and what our circumstances are?
And yes, I can!
As I write this blog … my backpack halfway packed for the next adventure.
This time with a bigger mission, not only as an interested individual, but also in the role of founder of my new company Live Your Best Life Empowerment Inc.
On Nov. 5, two members of the LYBL team, Piper and I, will depart for Moshi, Tanzania. Our goal to connect and learn AND empower the women of GHTA and More than a Drop and meeting the 12 children of EEF, the children I have sponsored to go the school for the past 2 years.
Meanwhile, the other members of my team Manon and Kelli are working on a huge fundraising project with the children of Little Rascals. My LRD teaching staff joining in for the effort and upon our return in December we will host two evenings “The Gift of Giving …. That gives back” with slide shows of the LRD children learning about the world, making gifts for sale and with images from our volunteer experiences from all three countries. A family affair for our 300+ moms and dads and their children to savour delicious snacks, learn more facts and share their volunteer experiences and their ideas. Spicing it up with a raffle and 50/50 tickets. A perfect way to enjoy each other and bring joy to the special people we have met all over the world.
Together we can!