If I have learnt anything in almost two years of travelling it is that volunteering opens lots of doors.
Indeed, some of my best experiences in Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand have been as a result of volunteering. Like most things you only get out what you put in. And I am convinced my life has been enriched by doing unpaid work and helping, hopefully, the lives of others along the way.
A conversation starter on many occasions, particularly in Vietnam, is my bracelet. This was made for me by a Buddhist monk called Tinh. Each day, as part of my volunteer English teaching, I went along to his pagoda and sat with him and spoke English for two or three hours straight.
He had learnt English seven years prior but hadn’t spoken it for two years. A week of visiting soon knocked the rust off and we he had many varied discussions about life and, inevitably, Buddhism. He was one of the most chilled out, wisest people I have ever met. I could not conceive of him getting stressed about anything.
At the end of the week he asked if I would like him to make me a Buddhist bracelet. That was a no brainer for me. He then proceeded to pull a cardboard box from a cupboard and told me to choose the beads I would like.
Having chosen matching colours of string, Tinh sat and created my bracelet before my eyes. (See the video).
I remember thinking how lucky I was to have spent time hanging out at the pagoda with Tinh and getting to know him. This was an experience money could not buy. It had only been possible through volunteering.
Since then there have been countless other examples, including being handed the keys to a new pick-up truck to drive to the beach, hand feeding an orphan wallaby, and being invited along on an overnight fishing trip on a rocky crag in the ocean off the coast of North Island, New Zealand.
All great memories, and all possible because I gave a little of myself and my time to help others. None of these experiences were expected nor sought, it was simply the kindness of strangers.
In this age of narcissistic, opinionated self-absorption maybe it is time we all give ‘me’ a back seat once in a while and thought of how we could help others. Trust me on this, there is nothing more rewarding than feeling you have made a little difference in someone else’s life.