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Sharing 7 Things I Took Away From Volunteering in a Developing Country

“Our lives are frittered away by detail. Simplify. Simplify.” – Thoreau

I was not prepared for what was to come, but that is why it worked out perfectly. Honestly, if I had known I would be speaking fully in Spanish, planning and managing a summer camp for 40 kids, teaching math and science in a foreign language and working ten hour days, I probably would not have gone.

In January of 2014 I left my home in Seattle to travel to Peru to volunteer for four months with at risk children. I hopped on a plane with my rusty Spanish skills and expected smooth sailing from there.

It was through being challenged everyday, and questioning if I would make it through my volunteer commitment that I was able to grow and take so much away from my time.

I was constantly humbled, frustrated, and exhausted, but full of joy. As I left Seattle, I was nervous about what my volunteering experience would be in Peru. And as I left Peru, I was full of excitement to be going home, but that same nervous feeling came back to me. I was going back to a familiar place, but I felt different. My life had not been changed in any drastic way, but there were small things I had taken away from my time in Peru that I wanted to incorporate into my life at home.

In the big scheme of things, four months is a blink of an eye. It is nowhere near the over two-year commitment that Peace Corp volunteers make or what some other volunteer programs require. But those four months allowed me to step out of the life I had led for 22 years and gain important perspective.

The main theme that stood out to me was simplicity. We can get by with so little. This does not mean we need to deny ourselves what brings us joy, but it does mean that we are obligated to be conscious of what we consume and how the choices we make affect not only ourselves, but the world we share with other humans and other creatures.

The children that welcomed me into their lives. They challenged and inspired me- and also gave me about five hugs a day.

Before I left Peru, I wrote seven things in my journal that I planned to hold myself accountable to as I jumped back into where I had left off in the USA.

  1. Do what you want!
    • Do not worry about other people because chances are they are too busy thinking about themselves to care
    • When you are happy you make others happy- so do what makes you happy!
    • Life is too short to do things out of guilt or feelings of obligation. Only do what is genuine and you can give yourself to 100%
  2. Nothing is easy, nothing is black and white.
  3. Celebrate the uniqueness of humanity.
  4. If you make yourself proud then NEVER apologize for who you are.
  5. A simply life is a happy life.
    • This one is important. Remember when you had a backpack full of clothes for four months? You never needed anything more. Remember when you are in Seattle that you do not need anything. Identify and organize your wants- what makes you truly happy?
  6. Be patient! Everything takes time.
  7. 3 month rule: almost all big adjustments take 3 months- before that it is unfair to make any adjustment or decisions.

Two years later, I have sat down to revisit these observations. Have I held to them as much as I wish? Yes, surprisingly, I have. There was no overnight change when I returned to the USA, I still love shopping too much, but little by little simplicity has come into my life. This is the key, my friends. Nothing happens overnight. It is through time that a little becomes a lot.

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