Shaun's image of a volunteer

When we first signed up to volunteer abroad, I immediately had an image in my mind of the sorts of other volunteers we’d meet.

For some reason I had a 20-year-old, long-haired, hacky sack kicking hippy in my mind. Some guy who was a part-time philosopher mixed with a touch of granola and a lot of vegetables. Not sure why that’s the dude I had in my mind, but it was.

As it turned out, I was wrong. Way wrong, thankfully.

In fact, not only is there no stinky hippies here, there actually isn’t one single thing that ties the volunteers we’ve met in Sri Lanka together. We come from a variety of countries (Uganda, England, Scotland, the Netherlands, India, the U.S. and Belgium), we’re all over the map when it comes to age (late 20s to 69 and holding) and we all have very different backgrounds and interests.

Besides everyone speaking English, the only thing we all have in common is that we’ve all decided to drop everything in our ‘regular’ lives and volunteer on a tiny island we know not much about. That’s about where the similarities end – on the surface anyway.

However, once we start talking, the similarities underneath start to surface. We were all somewhat bored with our lives, we all enjoy a bit of an adventure, and even though most of us don’t like to admit it, we were all looking for a little bit more meaning and substance out of our work.

You could even go as far to use the cliché that we’re all interested in making a difference in the world. Whether we do or not while we’re here is certainly up for debate, but what isn’t, is that we’re all making a difference in the way our lives we’ll unfold from this point on.

And there’s something in that unspoken similarity that bonds together two complete strangers in an instant. When you both know that you’re changing, but have no idea how, it’s impossible not to become friends.

It doesn’t matter if your 30 years apart and have nothing else in common. What matters is that your both living in unfamiliar territory and that it’s all happening right now.

If there’s one thing that does tie us all together, it’s that our pasts and futures are all temporarily on hold as we take time to live in the moment – a very hot moment.

Shaun

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