A Gap in Volunteer Gigs Showed Me That Meaningful Travel Has Many Forms

Hindu pilgrims bathe during Kumbh Mela. Image by balouriarajesh on Pixabay CC BY 0

Written by  March 3, 2019

"Travel with purpose" can happen anytime and anywhere. 

We were an hour into our journey to the famous James Bond rock in Phang Nga Bay, Thailand when we turned around and decided to visit the Soi Dog Foundation, instead. As soon as we arrived, I knew we made the right decision.

We spent the afternoon learning about the work being done by the organization to combat the dog meat trade and improve the lives of countless animals. I may have missed my only opportunity to see the Bond rock, but the energy of being around people who are improving the world is contagious. 

Travelling with purpose is not exclusive to extended travel. Even as a long-term traveller, I have experienced an ebb and flow in volunteer momentum. We had visitors in January and then left Southeast Asia for India. We haven’t volunteered since late December, but we have found other ways to purposefully spend our time. These short-term experiences have demonstrated that supporting people and projects can also be done by participating for a few hours.

Here are some of the experiences we've had:

Staying at a guesthouse with a purpose

Prema Metta School is a rural school near Bodhgaya, India. It is attended by nearly 50 students who would otherwise not have access to education due to generational poverty and other compounding factors. We found the school through an Airbnb listing for the Senamura Yoga Guesthouse. Located next to the school, all its profits go to helping the school keep its doors open.

If you want to travel with purpose, location and time do not need to be restrictions. Whether you're on a weekend getaway or on the other side of the world, do not underestimate a few moments of your time.

Before we left, we were invited to join the students for a celebration of spring. They welcomed us openly, insisting we take a front row seat for the ceremony they held to honour the goddess of education. Colourful streamers and upbeat music filled the humble school grounds with excitement.

We only stayed for a few nights, but it will be one of the more memorable parts of this trip. It was the first time I came across this type of lodging on Airbnb, but I hope it becomes more common and encourage others to look for similar opportunities.

“Taking the plunge” into Hindu culture

Next, we ventured to Allahabad, India for Kumbh Mela, a 48-day peaceful gathering of tens of millions of Hindu pilgrims. People come from all over the country to bathe in the sacred confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and Sarasvati. I am not a fan of crowds, so the prospect of entering a religious gathering of this size caused some serious apprehension, but testing my comfort zone ended up paying off.

Our presence was met by many stares, some smiles, and eventually (after we made it to the river and submerged ourselves in the water) an onslaught of friendly greetings and selfie requests. My apprehension lessened as the people at Kumbh Mela graciously welcomed us into their gathering without hesitation, just as the students had at Prema Metta School.

The value of a brief encounter

The past few months have demonstrated the value of purposefully spending a short period of time. I’m eager to immerse myself in our next volunteer gig, but I’m also a believer that brief encounters can be equally impactful. Having less time can encourage us to do more with it.

If you want to travel with purpose, location and time do not need to be restrictions. Whether you're on a weekend getaway or on the other side of the world, do not underestimate a few moments of your time. In the words of the Buddha, “One moment can change a day, one day can change a life, and one life can change the world.”

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Published in Volunteer Abroad Blogs
Alana Jenkins

Alana Jenkins quit her job as an Office Manager for a mental health agency in Saint Paul, Minnesota to travel and volunteer in Southeast Asia and Europe. She is volunteering through Workaway and seeking immersive local experiences.

Website: www.instagram.com/diysabbatical/

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