Why Is Volunteering Rejuvenating? — February 20, 2012

Our 35 mission volunteers have returned to their daily lives. Those who traveled from the US are catching up with family and work responsibilities. SPECIAL THANKS to island resident volunteers, Ray and Sandy Ham, who have invested countless hours after our February 1-8 Mission Project Week to finish renovating Casita del Corazon, a new therapy center for children with disabilities.

There was a surprise waiting for me when I logged on today . . . an email from Roger Hoy in Lincoln, Nebraska. Here’s an excerpt from Roger’s reflections about his first Cozumel mission trip:

“For me personally, I think that was the most rejuvenating experience I have had in decades and look forward to doing more in the future.”

Roger’s comments struck a chord and I’ve been mulling over this question. . . Why IS volunteering in a culture other than our own such a compelling experience? I’m not sure I have “the” answer nor do I believe it is the same for everyone. Perhaps one or more of the following explanations contributes to the feeling of rejuvenation Roger experienced. How do these fit for you?

1.Volunteering enables us to put things in perspective about what is truly important. Helping families struggling to provide basic needs of food, water and shelter for their children is humbling compared to things we tend to focus on in our daily lives. Photo at left: Roger helped Jose’s family access water by installing a manual pump in their well.

2.Volunteering challenges our problem solving abilities. Not having access to resources typically available in the US or Canada causes us to think differently. We can’t assume the same solutions or materials will work in a tropical climate or an environment where families and organizations may not have reliable services (i.e. electricity, transportation, protection against environmental elements). I jokingly say in the US, some problems can be solved by throwing money at it . . . not so in Mexico. Photo at right: A plan for collecting rain water from the family’s roof, flowing down a tube to store in barrels had to be based on materials available and a process the family could easily maintain over time.

3.Volunteering results in personal growth, learning and discovery often leading first to frustration, then followed by a sense of accomplishment. You can’t walk away from significant volunteer experiences without having changed or gown in some way. It may be overcoming a language barrier to get the job done, require you to work outside your expertise and/or stretch you to address a personally uncomfortable situation. Photo at left: Roger (back) and Larry (front) install the rain water collection system. The first try seldom works (true in this case) and often requires multiple trips to secure supplies and tools. Mission volunteers quickly learn projects take 2-3 times longer than we “think” they should!

4.Volunteering allows us to share the grace of giving/receiving genuine expressions of appreciation without strings attached, expectations or a sense of entitlement. Photo at right: Jose’s family was so appreciative that one of the children cut fresh coconuts to share cocunut milk with mission volunteers for helping the family access clean water for bathing and washing clothes as well as for dental fluoride treatments provided for the children by Dr. Julie.

It always amazes me we have such an eclectic group of mission volunteers with diverse life experiences who come together to share a common interest in helping Cozumel families and the community. Working with local and visiting volunteers as well as donors is truly rejuvenating for me! ~~ Karen

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