What You Really Need When You’re Volunteering

So my volunteering journey is nearly at end.  After fifteen weeks in Bangladesh, I’ve got mixed feelings about going home: on one hand, I am really looking forward to seeing my friends and family, not to mention having a few home comforts (I swear I will hug the washing machine when I see it!), but I am so sad to be leaving this wonderful country and all the amazing people I’ve met here.

I’ve been doing a bit of packing today, well more sorting out what I’m actually taking home – most of my t-shirts have seen better days – and it got me thinking about what you really need to bring with you for this kind of experience.

Mosquito Repellent. Lots of mosquito repellent.  And bite cream.  Those little guys are tough!  And why do they always seem to bite my bum?!

Photographs.  My host-family loved seeing photos of my family back home and it was lovely for me to see the faces of my family and friends.  Definitely bring photos!

My family

This photo of my family at Christmas is now famous around my host-home!

A Smile.  It goes a long, long way.  It transcends language barriers and brings you closer to people.  Even on the hardest days, there will be something or someone who makes you smile.

A sense of humour.  Because development work can be really challenging at times.  Because life on a volunteering project can be intense and frustrating and there will be days when you just want to pack it all in.  Those are the days when the only solution is to laugh.

Gratitude.  It’s so much easier to appreciate the good things in life when you don’t have much.  Maybe that’s why the people in our community seemed so content.  Money, as the saying goes, does not buy you happiness.  Happiness is your host-mother boiling water for you to wash with on a cold day when you’re sick or when one of your teammates sends you a minion gif because they know minions make you laugh.  Be grateful for the small things, because the small things are really the big things.

Humility.  From the hospitality I have been shown at every turn to the commitment of young people  to their country’s future, I have been inspired and humbled by my time in Bangladesh.  Being a volunteer doesn’t mean you have all of the answers but I feel incredibly privileged to have been one small step in Bangladesh’s path to becoming a middle income country.

Patience.  People will turn up late for meetings.  Hours late.  In Bangladesh, five minutes means ten; one hour really means two.  It can really wind you up, if you let it.  But people in the community won’t work to your neatly drawn-up timetable; they won’t be bothered that you only have twelve weeks in the community and that everything needs to be done right now.  For the project beneficiaries, this is about the rest of their lives so what’s the rush?

A willingness to learn.  If you are open to it, you will learn so much through volunteering.  From the other volunteers, from the community partners, from your host-family, from the beneficiaries.  I’ve learnt more about myself in the last four months than I think have done in the last four years, not to mention what I learnt about development work and how to start a business.

An open heart.  You will quickly fill it with beautiful people!

A camera, a diary, something to record your experience.  Because you won’t want to forget a second of it.

A torch.  For powercuts.

Lots of underwear.  Because handwashing gets really boring and running out of clean underwear sucks (and because some of it will go missing – I’ve still got no idea where those red ones got to!).

A smartphone.  Sorry!  Maybe I should have eschewed technology for four months but smartphones are nearly ubiquitous here now.  Strangers will ask you for your Facebook ID!  And the ability to stay in touch with friends and family back home is just too important.  There are some days when you all need is a text from your mum 🙂

This has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life.  Thank you to everyone who has made it possible and who has supported me along the way – it’s one hell of a journey!

6 comments

  1. Well done Vix, sounds like you’ve surpassed all your expectations from this trip 🙂 looking forward to seeing you soon! xx

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    1. You too! At Doha (for a change) although I have to admit to being in the businesa lounge. My flight was delayed so I missed my connection, cue free upgrade! Bit different to the last few months ☺

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