Jane Stanfields passion for animals, volunteering and international travel led her to quit her job and travel around the world completing 12 volunteer jobs within one year - seven of which were with wildlife!
A passion for learning
I am a very active volunteer at home and I love learning about new places, people and things. I heard that I could volunteer on international projects without existing skills or a degree and still have an amazing experience. When I saw that I could work on an archaeological dig and actually get close to the artifacts I was hooked!
Both my older brother and sister are avid travellers, and I suspected they would be excited for me. In fact, when my sister heard of my desire to volunteer with animals, I found information about CARE, the baboon sanctuary in South Africa, on my bed the next morning. I wasnt just inspired - I was encouraged to go!
"My advice for would-be volunteers?
Pick something you cant wait to experience, pack your flexibility and your sense of humor, and go for it."
When I found that I had the time and the financial resources to go, I took a full year to decide what to do with my belongings and really researched an itinerary that would offer the widest volunteer experience possible. I selected 13 different projects and completed them in 18 months.
Picking a favorite would be like asking a parent which of their children they prefer. They all offered me something unique and to miss one of them would have diminished the fun of my trip.
My advice for would-be volunteers? DO IT! Pick something you cant wait to experience, pack your flexibility and your sense of humour, and go for it.
Volunteering to learn
"To be able to navigate with ease in different cultures and countries gave me a huge sense of accomplishment."
It wasnt all about giving back. I gained a lot, especially in self-knowledge. As I travelled, I found I had reserves of patience, compassion, kindness, and enthusiasm that I had not recognized in myself. To be able to navigate with ease in different cultures and countries gave me a huge sense of accomplishment.
Some people might consider me a Pollyanna traveller. I guess I am, because I expect things to go well and they do. The only time I felt out of sorts during my trip was when I had temporarily forgotten to be grateful for the amazing adventure I was on. It usually happened when I was tired, hungry, thirsty or had not taken care of myself in some way. Once I remembered I was in an exotic land far from home, I was determined to find something that interested me, and I was back in the game and raring to go.
I feel the most complete when I volunteer. Not because I am saving anyone, but because I am working with others on projects that fill both my heart and my mind. I volunteer to learn and I always learn something about the project, the people I interact with, or myself. I am never disappointed when I volunteer.
Working with animals is not for the faint hearted
Most of my best and most challenging moments came when I was working with the animals.
Highlights included having a wombat napping in my lap, solving a problem for an orphaned red kangaroo that was panicking, mesmerising a Peruvian orphan with a lullaby and lifting a 3000-year-old pot out of the ground without a chip. As you can imagine, I could go on and on.
Challenges included having a penguin die within three minutes of my giving him a medical treatment, and having to euthanise severely injured rats that had been mauled by something.
I travelled alone and did not return to the US for a full year. The best part about going by myself is that it made me be brave and step up and initiate conversations. I could also spend as much time as I liked in a museum, coffee shop, or spontaneously change my plans without having to check in with anyone.
The challenge was at very special times such as viewing the Moai on Easter Island, Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, or a fantastic theatre performance, I wanted to turn to someone and say, Isnt that absolutely amazing?
Things to ponder before volunteering
"Evaluate your personality, skills and challenges to determine how close or far away you want to be to the community."
Really get to know yourself! Evaluate your personality, your skills and personal challenges, and be honest as you determine how close or far away you want to be to the community you will serve. If you want to help but dont want to get too close to something, there are plenty of ways to help where you can be behind the scenes or with minimal interaction. You just have to ask the right questions to the project coordinators to make sure you are a good match.
Good questions to ask yourself would be:
- Why are you going travelling? (What do you hope to accomplish?)
- How will you know if you were successful?
- Do you feel you will be able to say the following statement on a daily basis and mean it: What can I do for you today that will help you the most?
At times you may be doing jobs that are boring or you feel are menial. However, if that is what they need done today, then it is the perfect way to serve as a volunteer.
Most importantly, pick a project that you cannot wait to experience.
There will be a lot of foreignness about volunteering in a different culture and not everything may go the way you want. However, if you are in love with the project, the issues will be minor bumps in the road instead of obstacles to overcome.
A future after volunteering
When I returned, I set up Where Is She Heading (www.whereissheheading.com), which offers presentations, workshops, and classes on how to find a volunteer vacation to suit your interests. I also wrote a book, Mapping Your Volunteer Vacation, which assists prospective volunteers with the sequential steps to find, create, plan, pack, and return from an international volunteer vacation. My next big adventure is applying to work in Antarctica, and compiling a list of projects for my next volunteer opportunity!