At Home or Overseas: Where does my time matter?

Say yes more often.

I found these exact words written on a tongue depressor in Aron’s flat in Wellington, New Zealand. It was buried in one of those drawers that houses everything, and yet nothing at the same time. I believe it had been assigned to him at a party long ago; he made it his motto, his agenda…that fortune cookie (or at least its innards) that he actually thought might hold some worthwhile wisdom. It became his practice to say yes more, to things that would make him uncomfortable and things he wouldn’t normally consider ‘his style’ because he believed that it would help him grow.

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When giving presentations or speaking at conferences, people often ask me, why Haiti?

And while there are a plethora of good reasons that it should be Haiti…the real answer is actually just that I said yes to an opportunity and have not yet changed my answer.

I think that many of us are drawn toward volunteering abroad out of, shall I say, mildly selfish reasons. We want to explore new places, experience new cultures, see what a developing nation looks, feels, smells like. But also to provide a service, affecting those who have so much less and whose plight we’ve only seen on dramatically sad TV infomercials, long past our bedtimes. We absolutely feel the need to give back, to do more in a place that it feels there is less. It’s almost tactile how dramatically different it feels to provide aid abroad, even when our neighbors may be experiencing similar circumstances.

Now I realize the spin on that last paragraph seemed in the negatory Ghostrider, but my intent is merely to point out some of the very real internal motivations that help to make our decisions.  I 1000% believe that anyone who travels to a developing nation will be better for it, and that, in and of itself, improves the world’s populous.

Of course, there are pros and cons to volunteering locally as well, but also different outcomes and levels of ability to create a real change. When you work within your community, you ARE the people you’re helping! This connection allows a deeper sense of what’s needed; you can ask questions in more depth and get feedback that is easier to comprehend, not only from the language perspective, but also from your experiential understanding of the community and its inhabitants. Additionally, you will see your successes and failures first hand, with greater ability to adapt and adjust with speed! As an added bonus, you’ll be able to see changes that happen over time because…well… you didn’t have to get on a 14 hour flight for viewing rights.

Now here’s the rub. Many of us are so hesitant to commit because we’re just not sure this is the thing, that one element we want to put our energy towards. We’re only interested in the project that can make the most difference, that thing that we are convinced we were meant to do…though we couldn’t identify ‘it’ in a lineup with other fugitives. Don’t get me wrong, I have been that person, in limbo because you think that one day your great life purpose will simply ‘dawn on you’.

But what happens while you’re waiting for the right thing? Nothing. Just a whole lot of thumb twiddling…and maybe some hacky-sack if you’re lucky.

There is no universal law out there that says you can’t change your mind, divert your energy, change lanes when you find the Neo of good-doing (that is to say ‘the one’ for the 8 people in the entirety of the world who haven’t seen The Matrix).

… but the stagnation that comes with inaction, particularly due to indecision, will eat your soul and benefit the world around you 0%.

Say YES more often! Not to fast food, trashy novels, or other generally useless things. Say yes to opportunity! …particularly when it can help others.

It is better to do a good small thing many times over than to wait your whole life for the best big thing that may never come.

The end-ish.

____________________________________

Dominoes is a popular pass time in Haiti - but you don't want to lose! That's where the clothes pins come in...
Dominoes is a popular pass time in Haiti – but you don’t want to lose! That’s where the clothes pins come in…

Some tips on making your work abroad feel like working at home in your community:

In communities, you don’t need to physically share anything, because through common experience, you’ve shared many things (…oh, you buy your groceries there too? how funny. Why yes, my kids attended that school through graduation… have you seen that woman walking her bulldog? oh yes, don’t they look like twins?)

So! How does one go about this when working abroad?

Talk to people, ask questions, share information
Find common ground
Learn the language
Do things outside, hang out, create projects, start a soccer game
Use public transportation
Explore the area so you can talk about it with locals
Go out in public! bars, resto
Find out what people in the area do for fun and then do it
Ask for help

Written by Morgan Denny on September 24, 2015

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2 thoughts on “At Home or Overseas: Where does my time matter?

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