I am only one, but still, I am one, I cannot do everything but still I can do do something.Edward Everett.
I am back in Alberca, Salamanca in Spain, using my time to volunteer on an English language program helping Spanish students to improve their English. I have told myself I do this for the opportunity of staying in a nice place with free food and board for a week, however, I also get to meet interesting people that feed me stories and knowledge. Making new friends from all over the world has to be one of the benefits of volunteering but more importantly, I get to make a small difference to the Spanish people that are here to improve their English language skills by building up their confidence and maybe helping them to further their careers. Whether you are a volunteer or not, knowing that you are making a difference to somebody can be undoubtedly rewarding.
If you google the subject, ‘How to be Happy’, you will be surprised to learn that high on the list is the action of helping and serving others. Sorry, it is not becoming a millionaire or having luxurious holidays.
Helping others, believe it or not, makes us happier and healthier.
Helping others is not only good for the people you are helping, it also makes us happier and healthier. There is much to gain for our own esteem and self-gratification. Volunteering for little or no financial reward can be much more than a direct exchange of resources. People who participate in volunteer programs will be quick to tell you about the benefits they receive.
As part of this program, some of us are encouraged to stand up and share our stories in the form of a presentation. On the second day I was humbled to listen to Simon’s story. Finding we both had an hour of free time I had previously shared a coffee with him. He had told me he was a retired solicitor who now resides in Southwest France but had worked in conveyancing in London and Bermuda, I had also been lucky to spend some time in Bermuda so we were able to strike up some interesting conversation. I had noticed that Simon walked with a limp but this was not something I felt comfortable to comment on. Later, his presentation was to share his story which he started with the words ‘You may be wondering why I walk this way and all will now become clear.‘
Simon had been a keen hiker since childhood and had taken part in 12 marathons including the New York Marathon which he completed in 3 hours 1 minute. However, his life was about to change dramatically. For Simon that day came in the summer of 2007, hiking up to the Col de Valibierna. 2,750 metres above sea level ridge on the shoulders of Aneto, the highest of the Pyrenees He had spent the morning hiking the Col de Valibierna, a double summited mountain in The Aragonese Pyrenees. It was a beautiful day with blue skies and Simon had reached the ridge. There were a few other hikers earlier that morning before Simon had reached the ridge.
As he commenced the descent, Simon experienced a blackout, he was not sure why, possibly he was dehydrated or he had pushed his body a little too hard on the climb. However, the few seconds, that he lost consciousness were enough for him to fall over the edge. He gained consciousness only as he felt himself tumble over and over landing on his rucksack. Simon had fallen 30 – 40 feet down the mountainside. Nobody could see him and as he lay still, he became aware that he could not feel his legs or his arms. He was alone on the mountain before two hikers eventually spotted him and an hour and a half later he was being airlifted by a search and rescue team and taken to a hospital in Zaragoza. Simon spent 6 weeks in Zaragoza before being moved to Exeter Hospital followed by a transfer to the spinal unit in Salisbury hospital.
As we sat and listened to Simon’s story we were all moved. Simon’s calm and quiet voice held his audience in silence as he recalled the moments that changed his life.
This had all happened in 2008 but by 2016 Simon was helping refugees on the Turkish border. Here was a man who was told he may never walk again and yet here he was volunteering, helping others. There is more to his story, I am sure. Throughout the week it became apparent that his determination to live life to the fullest had never left him. We are who we are and we have two choices, to give in to trauma or to defeat it. It was clear to our group that Simon was a great hero and here he was helping others. Participating in all the activities, walking into town with us, and first up on the dance floor at the end of the program party.
Humbled by his story, I vowed to never make any more excuses. Take every opportunity that comes your way because you never know how easy it can be to fall. How close you can be to an experience that can dramatically change your life. You never know, it could be tomorrow. Do it now!
Meeting other volunteers inspires you. Spending time with special people helps you to be grateful of everything you have. Without any doubt, in every program I have done, I have learned life skills from others that have humbled me. I have learned so much about myself. What have I earned? I cannot say, but my rewards have been priceless.
There are many programs online, for all ages. The Diverbo program I have worked on also offer a youth program. I would love my kids to do one.
There is always time in your life to volunteer your goodwill. It may be one week out of your working life but so worth doing.
Stay healthy and happy, the rewards can be yours.
Have you been a volunteer? I would love to hear about your experience. Leave me your comments in the section below.