For me it was jumping on a plane, landing in a strange new country called Timor-Leste. I soon realized that I was totally out of my comfort zone. I could barely speak a word of Tetun and moved straight in with a local family. I soon realised that this was going to be more than just a trip but an experience that I was never going to forget.
This was my initial impression of my volunteering experience with local grassroots NGO Fundação Lafaek Diak (Good Crocodile Foundation). As the time went on I was able to get used to the daily flow of activity and get to know how the organization works. During my time, the team worked on projects such as the Triloka Health Clinic, the University Scholarship Program, the Mechanical and Peace
Development Workshop, Water and Sanitation Projects and Health Education Projects.
The conditions were tough at times. I had to get used to bucket showers, a different diet, being away from loved ones and at times being culturally isolated. Many times I questioned my motives for volunteering and whether the hardships were worth it. In the end there was always something to turn me around. Sometimes it was chatting with my Timor family, or witnessing cultural moments that I
was lucky enough to glimpse, or touching base with the other great volunteers around me.
As time went on, relationships built and I saw gradual progress in the projects and by the people. There were lots of frustrations, problems, miscommunication and cultural misunderstandings. But there were also lots of laughs, friendships, personal development (on both sides) and progress with the projects. I learnt so much throughout my placement both professionally and personally. I learnt to be patient; most good development takes time. I learnt to be flexible; sometimes I wasn’t right in what I thought, so it was important for me to listen to find the right path for development. I learnt to be creative; sometimes it wasn’t about the message I was trying to deliver but how I was delivering it, I was able to see how much personality matters in volunteering.
As a younger person, volunteering was an amazing experience. It has forever changed my perspective on the world. I had previously travelled and seen different cultures but my experiences as a volunteer were something unique. The impact of volunteering has so much weight and longevity on the volunteer. I can only encourage younger people to get involved in Palms’ placements and become engaged with developing communities. It’s a great opportunity to get amazing insights into indigenous cultures, to take on roles of responsibility in development and to become a part of something so important.