There are countless benefits from 'helping out'/'leaning a hand'/volunteering. Studies and science both agree - volunteering impact on one's health (physical and mental) as well as on the community. This is how it started for me back in 2016.
First thing's first, what is volunteering 'officially'?
According to NCVO (https://www.ncvo.org.uk) volunteering is "any activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or someone (individuals or groups). Central to this definition is the fact that volunteering must be a choice freely made by each individual". No matter what articles or stories you read, the stories are the same - somebody is giving their time and skill to help out other person or community without any expectation of payment or anything in return.
What does it mean to me?
Volunteering provides a different kind of wealth – a wealth you can’t buy. It’s happiness; calming and feeding of the mind, body and spirit. It's finding a purpose; enhancing social bonds; and generally getting a kick out (a natural happy high) of helping others. The effects of volunteering are a two-way street. Its not only the volunteer that feels the positive effects but the community as a whole. For me, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing somebody that I’m helping, happy and smiling.
I want to share why I first decided to add volunteering as part of my travelling. For me, I wanted my travel to 'mean something'. I wanted it to be 'meaningful'. I wanted to experience as much as possible; be it different cultures, different situations, and develop new skills. For me, this was as much as travelling as it was about self-discovery, self-development and self-awareness.
How it all started for me
My first volunteering experience was in an orphanage outside of Sarat Thani in Thailand. I was working as an English Teacher (TEFL teacher) in a rural area about 90minutes from Sarat Thani called Phra Saeng. One day a friend asked if I was interested in helping with the children - playing games, helping with school work and generally entertaining the children. I found myself in the presence of some of the funniest, smartest, and kind-hearted children. Watching the children have fun and learn was the most amazing and rewarding experience of my early travelling journey. This was the first time I understood the notion of ‘Being the change in the world that you wish for’.
When it was time to travel on, I headed up to Chang Mai in Thailand. When in Chang Mai, I discovered a programme called 'Monk Talk'. This community programme involved English speaking travellers helping local Monks improve their English. I was in Chang Mai for a total of three weeks and I found myself volunteering two to three times per week for a few hours. I discovered this was an excellent way to learn. Whilst I was helping the Monk's with their English, I was learning about Buddhism, meditation and Monkhood. During my time there, I began to understand the concept of ‘Everyone is Your Teacher as much as You are Theirs’.
After leaving Thailand, I met up with a good friend and we found ourselves volunteering on a farm in beautiful countryside of Borgo Val Di Taro in Italy. We arranged our placement through WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) Italy website.
Though we were on this farm for two weeks, it was the start of my learning about building a sustainable lifestyle and the meaning of ‘slow travel’.
My second farm (this time travelling solo) was in the same area (Borgo Val Di Taro) but was on a ‘start up’ farm – the farm was only 12 months old. This provided me with whole new opportunities. This farm was just starting to build its vegetable gardens, animal shelters and was cleaning up land readily it for organic farming. This farm was all hands-on manual labouring work. The experience was an eye-opening and challenged my body but feed my desire to want to learn about how an organic farm is set up.
My third wwoofing experience was in the stunning little village of Maretto in the north of Italy. I loved this farm and my hosts - who I remain friends with to this day; they’ve even invited me to return to the farm when I travel back to Italy. This farm was a combination of food and animal responsibilities. There was a range of duties including: harvesting in the vegetable patches; planting fruit and vegetables; cleaning and feeding animals; and helping in the kitchens. My hosts knew I was interested to give anything a try. So I found myself being shown (and later supervised) on different farming tools (tools that would not cause any harm if I injured myself 😊). I made friends with other volunteers (also known as 'wwoofers'). We would spend our days off together visiting the local towns and cities and local festivals.
Though I only volunteered ('wwoofed') three times in Italy, those experiences were some of the best experiences I’ve had travelling. You know that ones, the ones that stay with you for years to come. And the people I’ve met and became friends with are all part of the joy of volunteering especially when travelling solo.
I’ll be writing future posts on each of the farms, sharing my learnings, adventures and what life was like on each in the future.
Until next time……
If you like this post, found it helpful, useful, and/or interesting then feel free to leave a commit, share and/or like. I would love to hear your stories about how you get involved in volunteering. If you’re interested in sharing your story, then get in touch, I would love to hear from you.. xxxx