#StepForward this international volunteer day

Today is international volunteers day and what better time to reflect upon my fifteen months in Papua New Guinea (PNG). My experience in PNG taught me so much but most of all that you should always follow your dreams. Like the VSO campaign slogan says ‘sometimes the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life’ and this really couldn’t be truer of my experience.

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Through my volunteer journey I have been able to share stories, facts, challenges and striking images that I have captured with my network of family and friends. This began as a way of keeping in contact but what amazed me as my adventure unfolded was that people were really interested and engaged with the work that was being done and the exceptionally diverse and complex culture of PNG:

It was fascinating to see the world through Sarah’s eyes, from the pictures posted on Facebook of beautiful scenery and people, to the words of blogs posted, keeping us up to date and engaged. I was completely inspired and followed her adventure in PNG with admiration and awe. “
Donna, 46, Yoga Practitioner

Anonymous, market man in Enga

I feel touched that through sharing my skills I was able to encourage others and help them focus on their beliefs:

I consider myself to be a strong and determined person however, I am blown away by Sarah’s VSO journey, which has been totally inspiring to me and my daughters. She is a fantastic ambassador for the gender, education, childhood and international developments issues she encountered in PNG and has displayed such bravery and courage and clarity of purpose throughout her whole placement, that it is impossible to pin down specifics. Her whole journey has taught me to be braver, stronger, and more focused in everything that I believe.”
Molly, 39,
owner ‘outside-in’ ecological arts experiences and media and marketing manager at Creative Kids UK

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One of the main reasons that I have always wanted to do an extended voluntary placement in a developing country is that I have always felt so fortunate to have such a supportive family and I’ve never gone without. I have always had a roof over my head, food to eat, love and encouragement. Through travel I saw the great disparity around the world and knew that my skills could be used to much greater effect than having more money and possessions that I don’t really need. I am really pleased that through sharing my story it has inspired my friends to realise how fortunate we are:

When I first heard that one of my good friends was going off to work in a remote part of the world, my initial reaction was “oh my goodness, are you insane!” But after finding out about what she would be doing I was rather intrigued. I must admit at the time I knew absolutely nothing about Papua New Guinea but that sure changed. Over the next 15 months my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram received daily updates in picture and story format, ranging from dispelling the myths, right through to articles about specific people or the daily struggle of life. By the time my friend had returned home not only did I know a lot more about the place, but almost felt like I had spent 15 months there myself! It also made me realise how lucky I am, I have never had to worry about a school place, whether my significant other was going to lash out that day, and this realisation wouldn’t have been possible without the fantastic work being done by volunteers sharing their stories.”
Steve, 35, security guard

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It has also been fantastic to see so many people share stories and campaigns and change their mindsets about the benefit that development and international aid has:

Having learned an awful lot about PNG, its culture, the work which VSO is doing and having my preconceptions about the people living there challenged, I read an article about the Maasai in Tanzania potentially losing their ancestral land to make way for a Dubai-owned hunting reserve. While it may seem to have nothing to do with your story the comment which followed in the article from the UK press struck a chord; ‘Withhold the £138 million in Foreign Aid we send them’. That would have been my response a year back before I realised the fantastic work being done by volunteers around the globe, many being funded by foreign aid. Citizens in countries which provide that aid need to be educated more about what is being done with their taxes so it is so vitally important that organisations and individuals continue to share positive stories about how aid makes a difference.”
Jeff, 61, retired

I want to say thank you to all the amazing, highly skilled individuals dedicating their time and energy to help others who are not so fortunate. I encourage everyone who reads this blog to think about what they can do, from raising awareness by finding out about a campaign and sharing it with a friend, to running a small fundraising event, to stepping forward to be a volunteer yourself.

Together we can make a difference.

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