In the 1990s, I hit a turning point in my life and began to search for meaning. I wanted more than a corporate title. I needed a greater reward than money.
My friend had just returned from Africa and when he spoke of the poverty and need, I felt this was something I had to contribute to. I left my career and enrolled as a volunteer. I was appointed Project Manager for the Surgical Eye Expedition (SEE) in Zimbabwe.
Twenty young people from the UK made up my team and together we visited local villages, assisting nurses who performed eye tests for those with suspected cataracts. Some of the old people were blind, with cataracts in both eyes and so very excited at the prospect of being able to see again. A short inexpensive operation, was all that was needed. I worked around the clock with my young enthusiastic team, yet I never felt exhausted. I was on a mission, I had a purpose, I was making a real difference, and the energy I got from that was unbelievable.
We used the storeroom of an old hospital to house our patients, who were mostly elderly and thin with a strong spirit. Part of my job was to get donations and free supplies from pharmacists, bedding stores and petrol stations. I was surprised at how tough it was to acquire equipment and funds for charity and yet equally surprised by the huge generosity of many. I watched the doctors perform cataract replacements with speed and ease. I admired the dedication they had to their profession.
“We needed one another and were happy to admit it”
Within this community of volunteers, I felt a real sense of belonging. I had never before experienced a team where everyone was genuinely working towards the same goal, there were no hidden agendas, no egos, just workers. We needed one another and were happy to admit it. Our different talents combined made us a winning team. It was refreshing to feel needed and appreciated instead of being seen as a threat.
The gratitude shown by the locals and their families was humbling. They sang songs, banged on old tin drums and danced around us – their way of saying thank you.
This experience helped me to find my purpose. I learned so much about myself and grew as an individual and as a team player. It was not only an opportunity to see the world, and experience a different culture without the tourist bus or price tag, but it was also life changing for everyone involved.
As you can see volunteering is selfish because even though it is a calling to give of yourself, your time, your energy and your money, what you receive in return is priceless.