It’s a question I’ve been asked a fair number of times. It’s also I question I find difficult to answer. In searching to articulate what drives me to volunteer, specifically, abroad I find a multitude of reasons. But I struggle to explain, fundamentally, why. I went to Africa for the first time for mostly selfish reasons. I would be lying if I said otherwise. Yes, I wanted to help, and to contribute in some capacity to those who were in need, but really I wanted to help myself. Specifically, find myself. I had grown up with a clear directive. Medical School. When I began to question my motivations and desire to be a physician my world was for the first time, completely uncertain. My goal, was to live abroad, to remove myself from the familiar, which often acts as a shelter-from ourselves, as well as the world. I wanted to get to know myself. This is what I thought anyway…
I truly believe growing up in a Western Society has more downsides than we realize. Yes, we have a warped sense of the world, from a highly superficial and materialistic viewpoint. And often, we are so out of touch with the rest of the world and what truly matters. What’s worse, is the combination of impersonal society telling us we don’t matter, paired with infinite opportunity to try and convince ourselves we do. In Tanzania, we met families with nearly nothing. Yet, the happiness was more than I often ever see in the States. They have a clear directive. To use the opportunities they have been given, to work hard, and provide for family. It is so simple. Yet, why could that never be enough for me? The idea of getting a job and settling down to support/raise a family is such a frightening thought it actually gives me anxiety. I have the luxury to do whatever it is I want with my life. But with that, I, like so many twenty-somethings have felt lost. I feel as if I am constantly searching for something, that I must accomplish something so fantastic, I must be exceptional. I am forced to grapple with what I perceive the meaning of life is. For those people in Tanzania, it is clear, family. To love, and support whoever is around them.
I am not saying I wish I lived in rural East Africa. I am thankful for modern healthcare, for freedom of thought and expression. I am beyond thankful for my education and family. But, I struggle, still, with finding a true sense of happiness. I found it on a few fleeting occasions. It’s a rare, perfect moment. The sort where everything is the world feels at peace, you are entirely present, aware and happy. It is such a gift to have this moment, and I have not once, experienced it in the United States. I’ve been close, but it is always clouded by something else, usually something I “need” to do. I am generally very happy, I have a wonderful life filled with love, but that perfect peace is illusive. When I’m abroad, I feel like I’m going back to the earth. I feel connected in a way I never knew I wasn’t. I’ve had the great pleasure to meet some of the most inspirational and incredible people. I cannot imagine life another way.
To see joy, in the face of extreme adversity, will forever change you. To feel as if your small contribution may better another’s life, and even, to see the extent of human corruption first hand, nothing can ever be the same. I go abroad, because I am still searching for myself, for my sense of purpose. In the light of those who live in such stark contrast I am able to catch glimpses of truth. And only hope these experiences will make me a better person, and allow me to live a better life, and have a positive impact in anyway I can.
I will never be done traveling, it is now in every part of me.