Welcome to the first post about one of my favorite, most life-changing trips I have ever taken (and likely ever will). My full feelings about this trip are full of clichés, but overall it can be summed up with a simple Avicii lyric – all this time I was finding myself and I didn’t know I was lost.
There are four countries in the world which for years have felt like home to me, even though until last June I had only set foot in one of them. Any time I think of them, a feeling of contentment settles over me. South Africa is one of those countries, and after being there, my feelings have only intensified for it.
The trip itself was run through Volunteer Eco Students Abroad (VESA), though it’s not just for students. I first heard of it through my friend Alex, who had seen a presentation of it by two VESA representatives in one of her classes in 2012. Brit, Alex, and I signed up immediately for a 2013 program, but ended up having to push it back to 2014. In the end, I was the only one who followed through.
I was nervous to travel so far largely by myself, but in the end, I was relieved in a lot of ways. I made some valuable friendships that I may not have otherwise, had I arrived with my usual group already sorted. The itinerary was a voluntourism mix – 6 days of volunteer work in 3 different areas followed by the remainder of the 2 week trip sight-seeing through South Africa and Swaziland.
I have mixed feelings about voluntourism. This article and this article nicely sum up a lot of the issues and dangers of voluntourism. I strongly debated whether I should do the program, and in the end I’m glad I did, but I also wouldn’t do it again. I haven’t investigated too much into the inner workings of VESA, and frankly in a lot of ways I’m scared to. Part of me feels guilty for perpetuating voluntourism by participating, but I still had an amazing experience that I know I am selfish enough to never regret. One thing I appreciated about VESA was that part of our money went to hiring local construction workers for the construction aspect of the volunteer work (more on that in another post).
I’m airing my feelings on voluntourism in this post, because I want the ensuing posts about my trip to be positive. At times, even while there, I felt conflicted about my presence, but I’ll focus less on that from here on out.
I’m so excited to share my experiences with all of you!
Have you participated in a voluntourism program? Are there countries in the world that feel like home to you, even if you haven’t been to them?