As we know, volunteering has many benefits, both for the receiver and the giver, and in my opinion one form of behaviour that helps makes our world work. It can be done using a wide range of skills and by people of all ages. For more than 20 years, I have coordinated over 30 international work projects through Rotary, primarily building schools in places like Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Burkina, Faso, Tanzania, Malawi and Cambodia. Two-hundred and fifty people with a wide range of backgrounds, ranging in age from 18-88 have come on these trips which they paid for themselves.
In December, I returned from Cambodia where I led a team of nineteen people with Brian Westlake who came to finish building a school which was started in 2009. Our partner was Ronnie Yimsut, a Killing Fields survivor (I will relate his resilience and survival in a future blog). To make this school happen, we had to overcome many obstacles, not the least of which was endemic corruption that appeared in many ways. The good news was we finished the school and many young Cambodians will now be able to obtain some much-needed vocational training.
One of the things that made this trip remarkable was that of the 19 people, twelve were over 70 (All but three were over 60), and the majority were women. Many had been on previous building trips, including the first one to Cambodia nine years ago. In our group were five cancer survivors, several had had heart issues, and the number of artificial joints was almost too high to count. Tom Sears alone had 2 new hips, a new knee and a new shoulder. Maureen Bird had a new hip and two new knees and several had been through other very difficult personal and health related issues. It was hard and sometimes heavy work: painting, digging, lifting and mixing cement in 35-degree heat (real temperature over 40 degrees Fahrenheit). In spite of this, the group was the hardest working group I have ever led. In a previous era, people with similar backgrounds would have been either tied to a wheel chair or the golf course.
Why did they do it? According to their evaluations, they wanted adventure, wanted to see the school finished, and most importantly they wanted to give back. I think you will agree this attitude and behaviour is inspiring and a far cry from all the bad news we hear of every day. In fact, this type of behaviour has led me to believe very strongly there is much more good in this world than bad. What do you believe?
Chris Snyder is the author of Creating Opportunities: A Volunteer's Memoir. He is launching a blog with his views, thoughts and lessons acquired primarily from 70 years of volunteering experiences all over the world.