My Short Term Volunteering Experience – Jamie Stech

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I have been involved in 2 short term missions and 1 short term volunteer abroad program:
1 week in Tampa, FL
1 week in Haiti
1 week in India

I often get asked the same questions and offered the same advice when I share with someone my interest in short term work. I have been very surprised at the negative responses I’ve received about my interest in volunteering abroad for short term. Due to this, I have decided to share my responses.

Below are some of the comments and questions I’ve received about my interest in short term volunteer and mission work. I have also included my responses.

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“Why do you volunteer abroad? The USA has plenty of people that need help. You should stay here and help our own country.”

My response: I do volunteer in the USA. I have volunteered to help with various organizations, including those that focus on nutrition for children, acclimation for refugees, resources for the homeless, and empowerment for young girls. This summer, I am volunteering 3-5 hours each week for a USA organization.
I love helping people in my own community, but I also want to help the global community. I am very committed to my country, but I am also committed to all people of God. God has put a fire in my heart for travel. Volunteering in other countries gives me the chance to meet people of other cultures and develop an understanding for people who live differently from me. These are countries that I want to visit and, in some cases, I feel that volunteering is a better use of my time and resources than tourism is.

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“Why do you take pictures and post them all over Facebook? It seems like you’re only doing this volunteer work to make people think you’re a good person. It’s tacky that you post these pictures on the internet.”

My response: Trust me, I did not spend my hard earned money and time just to fly to Haiti and India, snap a few pictures to impress my friends, and fly back unaffected. The pictures I share have nothing to do with impressing others. I like to document my experience to share with my family and friends. I am not posting these pictures to make you think I am a good person. I am posting them because I am excited about the people I met and the new experiences I had. Take for example, this picture of sweet Bethsaida and I. I did not take this picture to show you how much I helped this girl. Rather, I took this picture to remind myself how much she helped me. To me, this picture shows a beautiful young girl that I got to know, regardless of the difference in culture and language, we made a connection. This picture shows me the beauty of being human. It reminds me that we are capable of finding a beautiful spirit in one another, even if we can’t understand their language. I’m going to post my pictures proudly!

Jamie Stech at one of her volunteering projects

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“Why don’t you just send the money to the country that you want to help instead of wasting your money flying over there to do such little work? What can you really do in one week anyway?”

My response: Yes, the time I spent doing short term volunteer or mission work is minimal. Yes, the money may have been better spent if I would have sent it and I stayed in the USA. I could have sent my money to these countries, smiled at myself and been proud of the impact I made. However, I chose to travel to these places and get involved. I can hope that my presence made an impact on the people I met, but I may never know. What I do know is that I am a better person for these short term missions. My eyes have been opened to the different ways people live and love. I have learned that no matter where a person was born, they still experience the same emotions as every one else on this earth. Humans are amazing creatures. There is no way I would have understood the sameness of all cultures without visiting a few new places. No matter where you live, we’re all part of the human family. I’m certain I did not change the life of the children I worked with abroad, but I’m even more certain that they changed my life forever. It may be a selfish reason for volunteering abroad, but I see no harm in it. I am not trying to save THE world, but I am trying to make MY world a more understanding and caring place for me and the people I come in contact with.

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This one is not negative, but I often hear this and I’d like to respond to it:
“You are such a good person for going on this short term trip to help others.”

I appreciate your kind words, but this is a difficult comment for me to hear. I feel so guilty when someone tells me how great I am for doing volunteer work. I’ll be honest, yes I want to help others, but my main reason for doing short term mission/volunteer trips is because I want to travel the world, learn about another culture and meet people from all around the world. My main reason for going on these trips is very selfish. I want new experiences and short term trips are perfect for that.

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“People who do volunteer and mission work have a Savior complex.”

I can assure you that I do not have a Savior complex. I do not believe that I am “saving” the people of India and Haiti. They do not need “saving”. Yes, they may have less resources than we have, but my experiences showed me that they have far more happiness than we do. The people I encountered during my short term work “saved” me. They saved me from my own world views. They showed me that having very little material items does not mean that you have little spirit. In fact, those with minimal material items had the most spirit and joy I have ever experienced. I do not do short term volunteer and mission work to “save” others, I do it to save myself from the negativities of this world. Short term work is a quick reminder that there is a lot of good in this world. If you just look around, you will see that.

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Quite honestly, I am disappointed at the negative response I have received in regards to short term volunteer and mission work. If you are considering this type of experience, don’t let the negativity bring you down. You will not change the world with your short term work, but you very well may change YOUR world. And in my mind, that makes it all worth it 🙂

This post was originally posted by Jamie Stech in her blog Short Term Volunteer


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