Contributed by Erin Lilis
Erin Lillis – a globetrotter in true definition – shares that her most recent trip to Cambodia was not centered around historical Khmer monuments or luxury spas, but interacting with young orphans. She talks about the charity work she makes time for annually despite her hectic work schedule and what her idea of true happiness is.
Being a frequent traveler both professionally and personally has opened my eyes and genuinely made me take nothing for granted. As our world gets increasingly accessible, the juxtaposition between wealth and poverty becomes even more glaring.
I was first prompted to get involved in volunteer work when my helper, Wilma, shared that her province in the Philippines was badly hit by Typhoon Yolanda. Houses and schools were destroyed and the townspeople had little or no means to begin restoration. I made some connections in the Philippines and we began to raise funds to put roofs on schools in outlying islands where kids were still being taught in the open air.
I am also now actively involved in a project with Sunrise Children’s Village in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I rallied my friends and close contacts to raise funds to build classrooms for the children of the orphanage. I’ve also personally made several trips where I interacted, read and did cookery with the kids. I consider it a successful trip when I complete the goal I originally set out to accomplish pre-departure.
Whether it’s school curriculum planning, cooking classes, or simply interacting and giving love, my trip is made worthwhile when I see their happy, smiling faces. As you probably can tell by this point, I have a soft spot for children.
The spirit of giving and expecting nothing in return has, in fact, brought a deep sense of satisfaction. One memory stands out and has particularly anchored me to Sunrise Children’s Village. On a trip last year, I came across a new young girl who had recently been brought into the organization. She had suffered severe physical trauma at the hands of her relatives.
She was clearly hurt, angry and acutely damaged by her experiences. When I made a second trip later in the year, I saw first-hand the result of the work by the team at Sunrise. Her disposition was now soft and friendly, with nothing but warm smiles and love to give. There is so much we take for granted and it is from these experiences that I am reminded of my blessings.
The advice I have for other women contemplating voluntourism is – JUST DO IT. Whether alone or with friends, it’s fun and it feeds your mind and soul. Most importantly, it gives you the opportunity to help others. Just remember that packing is key for these trips and it’s important to determine carefully beforehand how much equipment or gifts you can fit in your baggage. I usually plan part of my trip in advance, but as with every project of this nature, there is a certain amount of ‘winging it’.
What is next on my voluntourism agenda? Having just traveled to India for a vacation, I’d love to further explore that beautiful country and see how I can give back. Every volunteering trip I’ve made, I feel I want to stay for longer and really get my teeth into projects. I absolutely love my career but these trips add special value to my life experience.