It’s not that I don’t like helping people. Really, I do. I’m a big fan of holding doors open for people, helping old ladies cross the road – all that stuff. Shit, one time my friend and I found some poor schmuck’s horribly written resume discarded on the street, so we retyped it for him in correct English (complete with reliable references) and sent it back to him in the mail. It was completely random, but it totally felt like the right thing to do.
Volunteering my time and helping complete strangers makes me feel good inside, there’s no doubt. And when I signed up to volunteer overseas, one of the main reasons I did it was definitely to see if I could replicate that warm fuzzy feeling every day.
It turns out you can’t.
Now, I do get that nice feeling sometimes, but I also get all sorts of other feelings too. Confusion, resentment, frustration often lead the pack. Thoughts like, “they don’t even want my help here, what am I doing here,” or “all they see when they look at me are dollar signs” are extremely hard to keep in check on a daily basis. And then those thoughts lead you to start thinking what you gave up or put on hold at home. And like all forms of resentment, it’s a deep, deep well once you start going down it.
So, before I got too far down, let me say that the reason I’m doing this isn’t to change the world or be a hero in any sense. I am neither Superman nor Sri Lankan Jesus. So when I look at things more closely, on most accounts our experience so far as been exactly what I was after:
- Adventure – working in a psychiatric hospital and living on a tropical island has guaranteed me that on a daily basis. Yesterday while waiting for the bone shaker (bus), I watched some little dude scale a 50 foot coconut tree in his bare feet and proceed to prune the tree simply by shaking it at the top and letting the dead branches fall on the neighbour’s house. Awesome.
- Break up the routine – Living in Regina for the past 32 years was great, but it was time for a change of scenery. F!%# you winter.
- New perspective on my career – Communications and media work in Canadian finance and insurance companies are in different galaxies compared to where I am now.
- Warm fuzzy feeling – I have felt this a few times, which was nice, but most times the feeling is sort of luke warm with a touch of diarrhea.
Bottomline: If you’re going to volunteer overseas and your main reason for doing it is to help others and feel good about it, do yourself a favour and stay at home. There are plenty of dumbasses at home dropping their resumes on the street that could use a good editor.
I’m glad we had this talk.