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  • Writer's pictureGenevieve Onuchukwu

How volunteering overseas changed my life

You have never really lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”

International Volunteers Day (IVD) is an opportunity for us all to promote volunteerism. Volunteering is offering something that is not required nor an obligation. Most commonly, volunteering refers to someone who has volunteered their time to work towards a common goal alongside others.

A lot of people find joy in volunteering from the sense of fulfilment you achieve from sharing your fortune and wealth with causes representing the less fortunate. For me, the sense of fulfilment ultimately ended up changing the path I thought I wanted for my life, and was how I began Gennaoristy Abroad.

This is my story of how volunteering overseas completely changed my life and a few important lessons I learnt along the way.

When my journey began

When I was a student in school, I was one of the first to raise my hand to volunteer to do something. Even though it was not deemed “cool”, I did it anyway. I did not really care what people thought of me when I offered to run an errand for the teacher or assist in setting up an event after school hours. I was always happy to lend a helping hand in causes I believed in or things I wanted to be involved with.

My international volunteering journey began back on Saturday 9 January 2010, when I was on my first trip to Kenya with my eldest sister Gabby and cousin, Sarah. I would not have ever thought one experience would have changed the entire trajectory of my life or my life’s purpose. To really explain how volunteering has shaped me to be the person I am today; I need to accurately depict the person I was before. When I was younger, I was spoiled, had everything at the tip of my fingers and served to me on a silver platter. I never experienced any form of hardship or sacrifice. I was extremely materialistic and a product of my environment. This is not to say that I was rude or unappreciative, nor selfish or entitled but certainly that I had very different values and morals than I do now.

As I became older towards my teen years, when I noticed people did not have the same living standards as me, I felt an injustice for them. I wanted to find out why our lives were so polarised. Volunteering exposed me to an entire world I never knew existed. One that saw people struggling to survive. One that I had nothing I could relate with. One that I had been sheltered from. Arriving in Kenya for the very first time was confronting, uncomfortable and painful. For the first time in my life I reflected on the life I had back home and became forever grateful for what I had. Whilst volunteering, I thought I was there helping change the communities lives where in fact, without them doing anything or realising it, they were changing mine.

The first two weeks of volunteering was just dipping my toes into the world of international development. Before I knew it, I was diving in head first.

What volunteering has taught me

Volunteering has taught me several life lessons and skills:

  • Respect - To humanise the communities of people we are assisting and working with. These are humans, people like you and I. Just because they are of a different colour, race, religion, or ethnicity does not mean they do not have the same emotions as we do. Just because they speak a different language to ours does not mean they are lesser than us. Our life experiences are just different. There is equally so much we can learn from others as they can learn from us. I know if it came down to survival, my Kenyan communities would be fine, however I on the other hand would not survive. So, to put it simply, Africans, Kenyans, or other people different to us are not just numbers and statistics. They are humans and they deserve the same respect as we would treat each other with.

  • Sacrifice – Over my volunteering journey I have sacrificed a lot of my time, money, and energy putting the interest of those I want to help before my own. In the first few years of getting the charity established, there were many times the charity did not have enough funds to cover the costs of the staff we had employed in Kenya. I felt personally responsible to pay their salaries. This meant it came out of my own pocket. That was my commitment to them. I continue to spend a lot of my personal time hosting fundraisers and organising events as well as guest speaking which I love to do. I do not view these tasks as a sacrifice as I love being able to do them however from an outsider’s perspective, this is how it may be perceived.

  • Resilience – There have been numerous hurdles over the years in Kenya trying to get projects up and running. So many that I would often question myself, what is the point? I do not get anything out of it and if other people do not care enough to make it work, why should I? Well, volunteering has taught me there will be so many reasons to not do something, but there are even more reasons as to why you should. In many ways I have had to become adaptable and flexible to the external pressures beyond my control and transform them to work in my favour and of those who I am trying to help.

  • Success – It is not defined by capital. We often only view success as the attainment of wealth. Volunteering has taught me this could not be further from the truth. Every single volunteer who does not get paid to provide their time and skills is contributing to a successful goal much bigger than themselves. They are donating their time that they will never be able to gain back, unlike money. Success can be measured in many ways including a sense of giving back to the world and making a difference.

Volunteering has taught me so many things, not only of myself but of the selflessness of others too. Every charity event I host, there are Australian businesses that donate their venues, products, and services. Volunteers who rally together to help get tickets sold for our events. Volunteers who spread awareness of the work we do. Volunteers assisting the growth of the charity with their skills.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank every single volunteer who has helped Gennarosity Abroad over the past 10 years. Without you, we would not be where we are today. Whether you volunteered once, or at every event, we are extremely grateful.

I would like to personally thank my sisters and immediate family who have volunteered at every event from the beginning. You have been my backbone. I would also like to sincerely thank my charity Board Members who have sacrificed the most. Over the past 10 years, they have donated not only their time, but their expertise, opinions, homes, and food. We have met almost monthly over this time and Gennarosity Abroad would not have existed without you. To Stephanie, Margaret, David, Warwick and previously Nikos, your generosity I will never be able to repay.

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