How I realised the world doesn’t revolve around me

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It’s easy to get absorbed in our own problems. Its even easier to believe that the teeny tiny fixable inconvenience you’re facing is the end of the world, the root of all problems, the worst thing to possibly happen.

It’s said all the time, but your parking fine, your Sunday shift, even your heartache – there are worse things that could happen.

Need more convincing?

I spoke to three girls who went on life changing volunteer programs to developing countries. Now that they’re back, they certainly don’t let the small things get them down.

ABBEY: Sri Lanka 

 

Abbey in Sri Lanka

Tell me about your program?

My program was run by Plan my gap year. It was based in Ambalangota, Sri Lanka. My program fees paid the tourism industry to take elephants out of work. All elephants in Sri Lanka have a birth certificate. A company or a person all technically owns them, or some are in a national park, but they still aren’t free to roam.

Why is there such a need for people to go over and help the elephants in Sri Lanka?

It’s a requirement for all elephants in Sri Lanka to have chains. It’s a really harsh reality. They are as free as they possibly can be, but the areas that some of them live is domestic, there is houses and people so they can’t have them roaming free. If one gets startled they can take down a whole house. They will never have the opportunity to be free in their whole lifetime. There’s no room for them. It’s not natural and they need nurturing. I like to think I was helping make the best of a really bad situation. 

Did you experience culture shock?

It was overwhelming to travel by myself for the first time. Arriving in the middle of the night and being whisked into a van by a strange man, and then having to have complete faith that the two hour trip was in the right direction was definitely nerve wracking. Everyone was really nice so that helped, and everything looked really dingy – traveling around the town and seeing the stray dogs and open sewers was confronting to see.

What did it make you realise about the way we live here in Australia?

I think everyone needs to do some travel at some point. Not take a holiday, just go and see parts of the world and realise how lucky you have it. When I was gone I missed home. Not my actual house, but there’s so much you don’t even think about, like water. You have it every day and over there it’s like gold.

What made you want to go?

Originally what attracted me was my passion for elephants and animals. I thought what better way to help animals than to go overseas and help out where I was needed. To be able to experience something that is just crazy to think about. Not only are you in another country, but you’re doing something you’ve always wanted to do.

Did it change your perception about what’s important?

It did! Because I was working with animals it really opened my eyes about how animals are treated. It made me really think about our zoos and everything here, animals aren’t meant for our enjoyment. I used to love going to the zoo and now I don’t think I could. I feel different.

CAITLIN: Vietnam

 

Caitlin in Vietnam

Tell me about what led you to Vietnam?

I work for a swim school in Melbourne, we support Swim Vietnam and the company recently decided to open a branch there in Ho Chi Minh. There’s about 1200 kids that drown each year compared to 200 in Australia so it’s definitely something that they need. I went over to help them set up the school, I spent three months there helping them develop programs.

What made you want to go and help others?

When I was offered the chance to go, I didn’t think twice. To be able to go and live in an under developed country and to help build a program that I am so passionate about was an experience that I couldn’t pass up. I think that we are some of the luckiest people in the world. It’s good to go and see how other people live, and we have every means to go and help other people. If we can make an impact somewhere else, why wouldn’t you?

How was this confronting for you?

The whole thing was confronting. When you go to a place like Vietnam and live there for a little while, you live their way of life. Living here, you would never think it would be hard to cross the street. You just get your schooling and your health care, over there it’s a privilege. Seeing what they are living off and how they make a living is really different. You walk down the street and see kids living there. Even in Ho Chi Minh city where I was based they have a population of 10 million people, but essentially there’s about 11.5 million, which means those people just don’t exist.

What did it make you realise about the way we live here in Australia?

One of the big things it made me realise is that everyone in Australia takes everything for granted. We think we have a right to something and we need it straight away. They don’t do that there. They genuinely have to work for every single thing they have, it makes them proud people. Here, we’re always searching for more, it’s not good enough. It’s really sad to think. The people in Vietnam are living on barely anything and are probably happier than we are.

Has it changed your perception, or how you approach things?

Being able to travel has had a huge impact on the way I see things and the way I treat people. Coming back, you definitely appreciate what you have. I am so grateful for everything around me. I was never really a materialistic person, but I am really not now. You see what little part you play in the world, it doesn’t revolve around you. You’re put in tough situations and that’s when you realise that the world is so much bigger than your perspective on things. It’s made me more resilient.

What do you think about people who live in fortunate places can learn from these people?

There’s soooo much that Australians can learn from these people. In this country, we don’t understand what poverty even means. To the Vietnamese, to be rich means to be fed, sheltered and clothed. We think we need everything, and we don’t. Even though they have nothing, the locals grab you on the street and want to offer food, clothes and conversation. What does that say about our culture? People on the street here don’t even look up from their phones and smile at each other. Small things make a big difference. Fresh air and tap water are privileges. We are so lucky to have been born in this country.

What did you learn about yourself?

I came home with a bigger appreciation for my family. Sometimes we get so caught up in our own lives that we just expect them to be there. Coming from a country like Vietnam where family is everything made me realise that when I walk in the door after a long day, I need to sit down and speak to my parents, have a conversation because that is the important thing, that is the thing you are going to remember. I leant to be resilient, patient and not materialistic.

 REMI: Cambodia

Tell me about your program in Cambodia

I spent a month volunteering in a Cambodian orphanage teaching children how to speak English.

What made you want to go and experience this?

I’m in my final year of studying a bachelor of Youth Work, I’ve always been sure that I wanted to work with young people, but I didn’t know in which context. Since turning 18, I’d done a lot of travelling but the majority of the time I would visit developed countries or places such as Bali that have become a travel destination for many Australians. I wanted to learn more about the culture of the places I would visit and I started to research opportunities to work with young people globally. The more I learnt about the struggles some face while growing up in developing countries, the more passionate I became about trying to make a difference.

Was is scary to be alone in a country like Cambodia?

It wasn’t my first overseas trip on my own, but it was my first time visiting somewhere that could be considered a developing country, I had only travelled to countries that had a similar quality of life to Australia. I hadn’t been exposed to high levels of diversity in culture, language barriers or witnessed levels of poverty first hand, let alone lived amongst it. I didn’t consider myself to be ignorant towards the struggles many countries face, but nothing could have prepared me for the culture shock I experienced when first arriving at the orphanage I would be living at in Cambodia. 

What did it make you realise about the way we live here in Australia?

That sometimes we take what we have access to for granted, certain aspects of our lives in Australia have become an expectation, such as an education, health care services and clean water, just to name a few. We are fortunate enough to have a high level of access to these things, whereas in Cambodia, if and when they have accessibility to these services, they are seen to be a privilege and are not taken for granted

Has it changed the way you see situations in your everyday life at home?

Yes. Since leaving high school, working on my character has become a focus point of mine, I want to be more empathetic and I want meet people and experience things that will change my perception of the world around me, I want to be challenged and learn from others. The children I met at the orphanage taught me to focus my attention, that I shouldn’t waste my energy on things, situations, or people that threaten my happiness, they were endlessly grateful for my time and effort and they reminded me of that daily.

What do you think us Aussies can learn from the Cambodians?

I believe that Australians can learn how to be less materialistic, often we are so caught up with ensuring that we are keeping up with the latest trend, whether that be in fashion, technology or ensuring that we look a certain way. We put so much pressure on ourselves to fit in that sometimes we forget to appreciate what we already have.

What were your own life lessons?

That I am more capable than what I believed myself to be, after spending a few days at the orphanage, I was ready to come home. But I pushed myself to remember the reasons behind making the decision to volunteer and began to focus on the children and how my presence could benefit them. While I can’t say it was easy, it’s one of my proudest achievements – I learnt more than I could have imagined about what is important and what isn’t, how sometimes helping someone that can never repay you, can teach you the most valuable lessons.

What would be your advice to people who perhaps don’t know how lucky they have it?

To a lot of the people that visit places such as the orphanage in Cambodia, these communities and children can be seen as the unfortunate, or the unlucky, because we know what it is like to live with more – more money, more opportunities and what can be seen as privileges that are just not available to certain people around the world. While we may be rich in wealth, the people I met in Cambodia are rich in other ways, they take nothing for granted and they appreciate everything they have, even if it doesn’t seem like much to people like us. They are happy.

Take a peek at some photos from these inspiring ladies’ travels below!

 

 

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