Ayesha Trott, our managing director in the South East, shares with us her volunteering experience in Virgin Gorda, a Caribean island in the British Virgin Islands.
I volunteer for 3 different groups doing a variety of roles: Wildlife rescue, Cyprus Dogs and the Virgin Charity, Unite. For the latter, we call ourselves the “Do good, have fun" volunteers, of which there are several hundred of us. We raise funds for Unite and complete practical tasks in aid of children in need around the world.
I usually go overseas a couple of times a year on volunteer projects. I've been able to see parts of the world and ways of life you would not find in any tourist guide. It's truly eye-opening. I have been involved in completing small tasks that have transformed the lives of others such as enabling access to running water, a school kitchen and toilets for Berber children in Morocco, and taking bikes to remote villages in South Africa so young people can get work. We also “pack with a purpose” when we go, and tend to leave behind our clothes, footwear and equipment, as well as take items such as tooth paste and tooth brushes to donate.
Last November for one such project I took annual leave and flew out as part of a completely self-funded team from “Do good, have fun” to Virgin Gorda and joined the Hurricane Irma relief effort. We all made our way to the island, which was not without its challenges - the island which had very few working resources, the airport was destroyed by the hurricane, and we needed special permission from the government to arrive as tourists were not being allowed onto the island.
We slept in a disused factory warehouse, on the floor on blow up beds, inside tents to keep away the mosquitos. Night time temperatures were in the high 20’s and with no windows, running water or electricity, it could get quite uncomfortable. We even had to bathe in the sea!
During our stay we undertook a school restoration project, making a large section of a roof habitable so five of the 20 class rooms destroyed could be used again. We also cleared the class rooms below, removed standing water, redecorated and put down new concrete floors. I was part of the roof crew, and learnt some things about myself in the process. At the start of the week I made sure someone held the ladder before I stepped on it, and had butterflies and a feeling of dread every time I set foot on the roof. By the end of it I was running across roofs carrying buckets of tar, using power tools I couldn’t pronounce the names of. I was liberated from normal daily routines such as washing, make up or any dress sense.
I am off back out to Virgin Gorda in November this year, and currently awaiting details of this year’s task.
It’s hard to articulate why I volunteer, but I gain more than I give from volunteering. Giving back to a world that has given me so much, quickly gelling into teams often with new people from all walks of life, new experiences, humility and a perspective on how privileged my life is. I walk away with a sense of purpose, pride and achievement.