Many of us these days are searching for ways to make a difference. We are mired in social and environmental issues of our species own making. While at times it can all seem a bit hopeless, I believe there are enough of us out there prepared to do what it takes to make that difference.
I have hope. I am optimistic about the collective consciousness I see moving and working this force for good, even just amongst my anam ċara (soul friends).
I have also worked with a lot of young people over the years in both the developed and developing world. I see a lot more activism, I see a lot less apathy. They are likewise a cause for hope.
So what can we do to make a difference? There are many ways, but in this post I will focus on Volunteering.
The thing about Volunteering is that it is such a win all round. The gift of your time, energy and expertise can be the making of a social or environmental project. So many of these great ideas fade without willing hands to contribute. And in return for your gift you will be rewarded with personal growth on a scale no money can buy.
Just as there are many ways to make a difference, there are many ways to Volunteer.
My most profound experience with Volunteering goes back thirteen years. Here’s a photo story from this time.
Thirteen Years On…
Thirteen years ago I was a GVI volunteer intern. This particular internship programme was a GVI and SANParks collaboration whereby a GVI volunteer was placed with the People and Conservation team in some of the national parks around South Africa.
My placement was spent in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. This experience proved one of the most profound of my life so far. I got to learn about the social and environmental issues in this part of the world. I got to participate first-hand in some of the various actions aimed at making positive change for the people, wildlife and wild places within this environment. I got to learn about myself through challenge and growth opportunities. And, I fell in love with the Kalahari Desert – her people, her wildlife, her pure spaces.
This “sign” lies at the southern entrance to the Park at Twee Rivieren restcamp where I was based for the year. The road from Upington (the closest centre) is sealed now, but back then it was a rather uncomfortable 250km long journey from the nearest “civilisation”.
Kgalagadi is renowned for its unique desert-adapted wildlife. In particular, the iconic predators.
Within the Park, I participated in a number of projects. One of these involved school visits. Part of visit included a wander in the dunes with members of the ‡Khomani San community who would share their knowledge of the plants, animals and bush craft.
There was always time for some fun and games in the red sand.
I also interacted with the tourists with various displays in the visitor’s centre as well as evening slide show presentations and wildlife documentary screenings.
Schools within a 100km radius of the Park were part of our environmental education outreach programme.
Me getting my teach on…. and trying with my limited Afrikaans!
We would stop at some of the citrus farms along the way to collect gifts of fruit to deliver to the schools as part of our outreach programme. A small thing perhaps, but greatly appreciated.
Another project was promoting the artwork of the ‡Khomani San community who were making the furniture and décor for their community-owned lodge as part of a Transfrontier Peace Parks initiative – !Xaus Lodge.
I also had the rare privilege of accompanying a wildlife conservation researcher on a cheetah radio collaring project.
Quiet time off the main roads taking in the views that stretch to the horizon. The air so still. The only sound is your inner voice trying to make peace with this isolation and solitude. Uncomfortable at first but now one of the things I miss the most.
What you quickly learn in a place like this is how important your small community is, you rely on each other for support, for companionship. You have to get along because you don’t have a choice. However, our bond survived our Kalahari sojourn and most of us still keep in touch no matter where we are in the world.
Downtime camping in the dunes. There is a purity here I have never felt anywhere else – it is a soul journey.
Thirteen years on and I am still profoundly affected by the memories of this time – the good, the bad and the ugly. I got that rare gift of seeing the world through a completely different lens. I got to know myself in a way I never had before. I was challenged to take on the responsibility of this gift of insight and understanding and make it my life’s work.
If you are interested in knowing a little more about what GVI is all about, this video clip is a good place to start.
There are many ways to make a difference. There are many ways to Volunteer your time, energy and expertise.
I encourage you to chase down these once in a lifetime 0pportunities or at least be open to their arrival in your life. Remember, we are at a time of “stitching a new garment”. What will your thread in this new garment be?