Just before the UK Lockdown, I went on a trip to South Asia to volunteer, and I realised how caring for others also means caring for ourselves, self-care. Here is what I learnt from this trip of a lifetime…
In what ways do you create space to get away from daily grind, to “Ctrl-Alt-Delete” on a stagnant mindset and get pampered with extra me-time? Perhaps a relaxing getaway, a yoga retreat or an adventurous travel plan.
I recently discovered the practice of self-care while caring for others too, when taking part in two enriching non-profit and volunteering initiatives in South Asia.
Yes it’s true, we do need to keep our own cup full before we can truly take care of others. But helping others has shown to have many positive effects on both our minds and bodies as well; and my time volunteering in India and Nepal made me reflect on how selflessness can have a positive selfish effect too. The desired win-win situation.
WHY CARE FOR OTHERS
Caring for others is in our human nature, a primary human need, and as a bonus acting selflessly releases happy hormones. We know too well how important those are for our well-being.
I embarked on this trip to give back, fully aware of the magic benefits it would produce for both others and my own self-care, having experienced it before. It triggers senses in so many ways, every time.
- The sense of COMMUNITY, bonding with the people I worked with and the people I supported;
- The sense of GRATITUDE received and the gratitude felt for being able to give and for being at the giving end;
- The sense of JOY for the smiles, hugs and playfulness shared and experienced, in particular with the heart-warming children I met;
- The sense of PRESENCE and awareness, being exposed to such contrasting realities and perspectives which took my emotions on a crazy rollercoaster ride;
- That sense of PURPOSE for the contribution I was able to gift, and for accomplishing something so impactful and meaningful.
VOLUNTEERING IN INDIA AND NEPAL
I spent a couple of weeks in vibrant Bangalore (India) and Kathmandu/Nagarkot (Nepal) to join two separate initiatives organised by non-profit organisations founded human angels I am so honoured to call my friends. The ABC Alphabet Club (https://alphabetclub.org/) and The Acts of Kindness Collective (https://theaokc.org/) share a common, very inspiring mission: to positively change the lives of underserved communities and to empower them through educational projects, in particular for children who would not otherwise get access to schooling and literacy.
To take part in these educational programmes is equally life changing and empowering for me.
INDIA – SCHOOL PROJECTS DEEP DIVE WITH ABC ALPHABET CLUBA (“ABC”)
First stop, Bangalore. I joined a group of incredible 19 like-minded ABC supporters and donors for the ABC School Projects Deep Dive. We travelled from 8 different countries for an insightful tour of the amazing work that ABC and their local collaborators do and to connect with the communities whose lives are affected. A concentrated Masters in anthropology and human connection.
Over a few intense days we visited 5 schools, 3 children libraries, 13 education non-profit / NGO partners and hundreds of students and their families residing in slums.
ABC has so far contributed to 16 school projects in 5 countries (India, Laos, Nepal, Haiti and Cambodia), 9 of which in India. Their projects include providing education in safe schools to more than 3000 children and over the last 10 years of operations, they’ve delivered nutritious meals free of charge to 500,000 pupils.
More recently, ABC is funding and opening new libraries for schools that educate children through its “Libraries 4 Schools” programme. It was heartening to witness in person the positive transformation that better-quality books have on students’ literacy, self-confidence, imagination and growth.
NEPAL – NEW SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION WITH THE ACTS OF KINDNESS COLLECTIVE (“AOKC”)
Next stop Kathmandu, Nepal. The AOKC put together a wonderful group of 9 volunteers, who despite the rising concerns around Covid19 spread, managed to travel from many corners of the globe to help construct and fundraise for a new school project. This was my second volunteering trip to Nepal with the AOKC.
Following destructions during the devastating 2015 earthquake in Nepal, Action Aid Nepal rebuilt a school of 6 classrooms and 1 teacher room in a gorgeous rural area near Nagargot, West Kathmandu. The AOKC, with support from the Kids of Kathmandu (https://www.kidsofkathmandu.org/ ) are helping fund and construct additional school facilities on this site, for the children in the community to continue education beyond 5 grade and give them a real shot in life. The new building expansion will also further enhance students’ learning with a computer lab, a library and clean filtered water.
As volunteers, we got our hands dirty with manual work, we played and interacted with the wonderful classrooms and school staff, all the while doing our best to raise awareness and funds to support the completion of this much needed gift.
SELF-CARE BENEFITS OF CARING FOR OTHERS
It may sound contradictory to talk about self-care and caring for others in the same page. Please spare negative judgement as I draw out some of the amazing positives that come out of human beings connecting and helping one another.
There’s no hiding that both initiatives in India and Nepal required physical and mental strength. And when exposed to drastic new environments and contrasting realities it is important to stay grounded and manage saviour complex and boundaries. But the benefits of making a personal contribution are so many, ranging from physical, mental, emotional and social.
Here are some good reasons I’ve drawn out of my recent experience, to help you consider volunteering as a getaway to create a win-win scenario of giving back while supporting your own wellbeing.
- Being Outdoors. The adventure of travelling and connecting with nature, in my case with breath-taking views of Nepali terraced fields and snowy Himalayas, or right in the midst of vibrant noises, colour and spices of India.
- Human Touch. Interacting with your fellow group mates and playing with the children is a priceless joy. The energy the kids give out make me feel so alive. Not to mention the perks of smiley faces and genuine grateful hugs. Simply smiling at someone is an act of giving and will brighten both of your days.
- Exercise and Movement. In particular on the building site, we helped dig and break/lay stones for the school foundations. A fun team work-out, which according to a fit watch cost us an average 4000 extra calories per day.
- Mindfulness. When deeply immersed into helping others and creating something good as part of a team, there is no escaping from the present moment. Your past and future almost entirely dissipate, as you enter the flow of your power of now giving your whole to the cause and the people around you.
- Time Out. Having my mind on others, keeps my mind busy enough to stop creating unnecessary worries and anxious thoughts. Being of service gives me new perspectives, makes me feel extra grateful and adds zest to life.
- Personal Growth and Contribution. To explore new places and learn new things every day quenches both my wanderlust and curiosity. When I step out of my comfort and into the learning zone is when I create a powerful mindset and make things happen, and contribute my best.
- Purpose. Being part of life changing initiatives and making a direct impact to people’s lives give me meaning and purpose. I got to feel a real sense of accomplishment and contribution.
- Positive Outlook and Resilience. People getting together for an altruistic mission really boosts my belief in human kind and human kindness. It lets me know there are people who do care, love is powerful and even the impossible is made possible.
- Happy Hormones. When we give a helping hand, our body releases pleasure hormones, including oxytocin, known to boost our mood and counteract cortisol (the stress hormone). We are wired to be social and want to help others, and the more we give back the happier we feel.
- Strong Connections. Through volunteering I’ve created meaningful new connections with the people I shared the experience with, and the people I’m able to help. Giving back nurtures feelings of compassion and empathy.
- Togetherness. Bonding people from so many parts of the world, sharing the same experience while learning individual stories and sharing your own. Most evenings we would get together and share thoughts of the day, highlights and low lights.
- Childlike Freedom. There is so much to learn from the beautiful children I met. Every single one of them. In the face of tough living conditions, they seem to prosper with inner freedom. Another level of appreciation, simplicity, curiosity and fraternal love to what I am used to seeing in our Western society. Their glowing smiles, joy and gratitude are super infectious.
CARING FOR OTHERS DURING UNCERTAIN TIMES
Giving back, in ways like volunteering your time and presence to support causes you believe in can produce many beneficial effects on your own mind and body.
Human kindness is borderless and people do care. Generosity from around the world make it possible for non-profit organisations such as ABC and AOKC to continue sustaining humanitarian projects. Make the world a better place for everyone, including yourself.
For the school building in Nepal, our joint volunteers’ effort on the trip almost reached target of $15,000 to fund the final classroom. Donations continue to be very much appreciated by ABC, to support their ongoing initiatives, and to AOKC to ensure delivery of their latest school construction. My fundraiser page: https://theaokc.giv.sh/fundraisers/fnd_540bf39c4f8f3812
Whether we’re able to travel or not, when choosing a non-profit organisation to collaborate with, do your due diligence and make sure your chosen cause is genuine and backed by a legitimate, caring organisation.
During the uncertain times of the Covid-19, affecting personal lives globally in so many ways including restrictions on travels, it can be tricky if not impossible to physically go anywhere. This is an unprecedented time to get innovative and creative about how we can otherwise contribute, to both our own care at home and the care of others: our family and friends, our neighbours, our community, our nation, the planet as a whole.
Giving back can be expressed by simply respecting isolation and follow preventative measures to restrain the spread of the Coronavirus. Sharing surplus of supplies and help others who are less mobile or more at risk get what they need. Checking in with dear ones and people online etc.
Now more than ever, I feel we are asked to increase self-care and caring for one another.
Connect if you want to talk through any of the topics raised in this article, and if you are looking to increase self-care and for ways to contribution, caring for others .
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