I feel incredibly privileged to be able to say ‘I was GVI Cambodia’s first volunteer’. Others may have found it nerve wracking to have entered into a month-long teaching program with no visualisation of what the area or the programme itself was going to be like on a new base. I can honestly say I didn’t encounter these nerves. This was neither naivety nor recklessness on my part, but instead reflects the importance of throwing yourself into new and potentially ‘scary’ situations that you have no choice but to follow through with. You have no choice but to just get on that plane, no matter if you’re the hub trailblazer or learning alongside larger numbers of other participants and staff members. Personally, I didn’t allow time for myself to contemplate the possibility of any negative outcomes at all. There was no difference between going to a decade old hub with 30 other people on my start date, or going this alone and helping to pave the way for other volunteers for years to come. Either way, I was about to travel to the other side of the world on my own and taking part in something completely new to me.
There was a very brief moment in my stay in which I felt marginally lonely. In my first week I was hit with illness, not serious, but unfortunate enough to warrant intravenous intervention. With the time difference at home and being stuck in bed, the number of people to contact became limited. It is not a productive use of time however, to contemplate if having other volunteers on my chosen dates would have impacted this. I want to stress this is not a reflection of staff as they were more than understanding, but a reflection of my not wanting to hinder the immense work that goes into setting up a new hub for a global NGO. On the other side of this solo trailblazing coin is the true privilege to be part of the beginning of a base that is going to make such a vast impact in Cambodia. I’m thankful I didn’t let the build up to my programme be hindered by nerves or concern, as now I have an even greater perspective that any anticipated life experience is more so a case of commitment over fear.
Taking the Leap
If somebody were to approach me and ask how to contain nerves surrounding international volunteering alone, I would simply advise to take each minor process in isolated steps. You need vaccinations, get the vaccinations. You need insurance, organise the insurance. Baby steps up until you finally need to be at the airport – then get on the plane. There is however a balance between throwing yourself into said ‘scary’ adventure, but also ensuring you will be suited to each other. I was confident in my personal alignment to this global NGO’s sustainability values and therefore also confident in the fact these values would define my experience. So, new or established hub, all are fundamentally striving for the same goal and this will ultimately define your time abroad. This highlights the importance of putting research into your chosen NGO.
No matter the length of time you contribute or the number of people you happen to be with, the values GVI holds at its core as an NGO means you will make a sustainable contribution within the area you are volunteering in at a grassroots level. I feel as though being the first volunteer placed an even greater emphasis on this truth, as I was the first voluntary participant to set the example of GVI’s efforts in the community.
I would wish the Cambodia hub all the success in the future, but with the commitment and efforts I have seen over my past month this is wholly unnecessary.
Thank you Lily and Avi, I am so excited for what the future holds here!