The Impacts of Volunteering Abroad
On a Buddhist pilgrimage with her temple in December 2017, senior Victoria Le met girls around her age who had the same hopes and dreams that she did — to pursue a life of helping others, and to make a positive impact on the world. The only difference between Le and the other girls was circumstance: the other girls may never have the chance to chase their dreams the way Le is able to.
“It isn’t fair that I am given more opportunities than them just because I was lucky enough to be born in the U.S.,” Le said. “Those girls are brighter than me, smarter, kinder and so optimistic, but they may never get a chance to reach their goals. I learned to really appreciate the life I was given. I am honestly so fortunate to live in a home with running water and air-conditioning, receive an education, go to school inside a building, and have food on the dinner table every day.”
During her trip, Le traveled to around 19 cities in India to help small villages and schools.
“Going to India was such a humbling and eye-opening experience,” Le said. “I love learning about different cultures and getting to truly experience what the country is like.”
Le immersed herself into the culture by learning Hindi as well as various traditions. As her trip progressed, she gradually grew attached to everyone she met.
“Every time we had to leave the schools and orphanages we visited, I would cry,” Le said. “I knew I would never see them again, and I wanted a better life for them.”
At one stop, there was a makeshift school with just 20 students and one teacher, where the students practiced their skills by using sticks to write in the dirt.
“The kids there were so happy, and it made me realize how little it really takes for happiness,” Le said. “The second I left, I started bawling my eyes out. I felt so bad, guilty almost, because there were so many times I complained about school — having to carry heavy textbooks or having too much homework — but there, those kids didn’t even have paper to write on. I felt as if my complaints weren’t even justifiable anymore.”
Awestruck and grateful, Le realized that the minor difficulties she faced during her trip, such as bug bites and harsh weather, contributed to the magnitude of her trip as a whole.
“Overall, the most important thing from the trip was that it made me realize how blessed I am to be living in the U.S. and have so many opportunities at my fingertips,” Le said. “Before this trip, I did not truly understand the level of poverty that exists outside of the U.S. I was sheltered. I met the brightest children, the most hardworking people, but I also encountered the hardships that they face.”
Le’s trip to India completely changed her view on life. Afterward, even when she went on vacations, she reserved a day to visit a place in need of help. For others thinking about volunteering abroad, Le suggested going with an open mind, ready to learn more about the world around them.
“You hear about how it’s like in other countries, but it’s different than how it is in reality,” Le said. “Volunteering is fun, and I encourage you to learn the language, even if they speak English, because it’s a sign that you’re open to their culture and willing to learn more.”
Most importantly, the impacts of volunteering serve to highlight how anyone can make a difference, no matter how big or small the contribution.
“When you give kids a new set of school supplies or clothes or books, which might not feel like a lot, you may be the reason they can continue their education,” Le said. “That is huge. The impact you can have on people’s lives is the reason I volunteer.”