International Pen Pals
University of Limerick International Division
Originally, I had little or no knowledge of the organisation, the country, the work or volunteering in general. Throughout my 8 weeks I learned a considerable amount about the amazing work done by International Volunteer HQ and their affiliate organisation Dreams To Reality, which is the in-country organisation I worked for. International Volunteer provides a service of great value, both to volunteers and the corresponding projects. They provide opportunities to volunteer in countries all over the world. I am not certain as to whether the same format applies in other countries, but in South Africa, the majority if not all the volunteers applied through IVHQ. If their application was successful they are then put in contact with DTR in the latter stages of application. DTR then provide all assistance and services upon arrival in the country. We are essentially employed by IVHQ to work for DTR. The services are very clear and professional, volunteers are always valued and welcomed. Having spoken to a number of people who volunteered in other countries it is quite clear that International Volunteer HQ is focused on spreading positivity, happiness and help across the globe.
My role as a Sports Development volunteer was perfectly suited to my academic discipline of Sport and Exercise Sciences. Throughout my time volunteering I gained priceless knowledge on how to apply my academia to real life situations. The practical experience working with children and their teachers was most enjoyable and gave me a great insight as to where I want to further my studies.
Due to the lack of structure of the physical education modules in the schools we worked in, there are a variety of skills that are put to the test. The skill of composure and maintaining discipline is what I found to be the most at large. As a lot of the kids struggle with or don’t particularly enjoy academics, they tend to let loose during their allocated time outside. While it is an absolute joy to watch and a pleasure to be around, the goal of the allocated time is to implement a physical education lesson adequately. It is very difficult to communicate with the complication of the language barrier. With that said, the volunteers’ teaching and coaching skills must be of high quality to be able to conduct a session successfully. The diversity and lack of familiarity provide volunteers with an understanding of their own skills which could never be taught in a lecture hall.
My reasons for volunteering were manifold. A lot of which I must admit were somewhat selfish, I chose volunteering over a potential J1 Visa due to the opportunity to explore a more ‘exotic’ country. I didn’t want to waste another Summer at home, I wanted to develop my academia skills, I wanted to see South Africa, I wanted to inspire people at home, I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone. I chose the volunteering organisation due to the ease and simplicity at which they made the process. I was researching numerous volunteer organisations online and International Volunteer HQ were the first organisation I saw which listed countries, projects, prices, duties, etc. Every question I had was answered on the information pages which made applying very simple.
However, despite the lazy approach to organisation selection and the selfish reasons for volunteering, the underlying motive was to make a difference. I felt that due to the privilege I have to live the life I live, it was my duty as a person to give something back to those less fortunate. I wanted to educate youth of a developing country because I was in a position to do so. If nothing else, making a difference was the only reason I needed to volunteer.
Volunteering has drastically changed my view on what it is and what is involved. I had always assumed that it was very much charity like, that there would be a superiority aspect to the volunteers and that in some situations, they were forced among the community whether they wanted it or not. This was not the case at all. All volunteers are instantly included and appreciated. The kids adore playing with the volunteers as much as the volunteers adore playing with the kids. The experience is one of the most genuine feelings I have ever encountered, it truly must be experienced to be understood.
Before this trip, I had entire my career mapped out. Following on from my degree I would study a Masters and in time, a PhD. I would get an extremely well paid job doing something I enjoy, which would allow me to live a very comfortable life.
Upon reflection, my entire outlook has changed. I want to live a life and career that benefits other people. People in need, whom without me would not get such help. I intend to use my degree in Sport and Exercise Science and any other further studies to better the developing world. Without any hesitation, I can say in 8 weeks I witnessed 3-5 boys play soccer at a level I have not seen in Ireland to this day. My goal is to give those in need the opportunities a lot of first world populations tend to squander, for the simple reason that these people would not waste such opportunities. I want to provide the lacking countries with an infrastructure which allows them to live a life of better exercise, nutrition, mental health and general happiness.
My volunteer experience gave such a benefit to my life no words could articulate. I learned the true meaning of appreciation, teamwork and happiness.
“An irresistible desire to volunteer and travel with the intention of changing lives but unintentionally changing one’s own.”
Unintentional or not, my life has definitely been changed. Volunteering has given me something nothing else can.
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