Before I became a VSO volunteer, I remember looking through lots of different blogs about volunteering, and reading articles and seeing pictures. And I also remember thinking “huh, there’s a definite ‘look’ of a volunteer”. I remember wondering if I could be a volunteer as I didn’t know if I had that look or not. But I think it’s not really a choice; the look, without you knowing, is slowly forced upon you…..
Scarves – I challenge you to find pictures of ten different female volunteers who aren’t wearing scarves. It will be tough. Scarves are just essential. It must be one of the criteria at the selection day, that you are not adverse to wearing scarves. Firstly, they exist in a lot of countries, they are cheap, and often ridiculously beautiful. Secondly, man are they practical. In hot weather, they keep the sun off you. In cool weather, they keep you warm. When it’s dusty, you can use it as a shield or tie it around your hair. Other uses include tissue (dirt on your hands?), blindfold (trying to sleep on a bus?), nose blocker (smelly toilet?) and other more embarrassing uses (“oh no, what have I eaten”) that I probably shouldn’t blog about.
Jewellery – similar to the local, beautiful and colourful reasons for buying and wearing anything, there are lots of local handmade, gorgeous and inexpensive jewellery to easily jazz up the 3 t-shirts we brought out with us.
Long skirts –Covering up below the knee is very important in a lot of countries, hence the “long”. They are very useful to fit in (blend in?) with some of the local cultures. Moreover, they are super cool when you’re wandering around in 30+ degrees.
Straggly hair – apologies to other vsoers out there, but a lot of image searches show volunteers, especially female, with long and slightly straggly hair. I most definitely include myself in this. But this is ok, it gives us our “look”. Hair cuts are sometimes possible around the world, but when language is a problem, do you want to risk it? And here, our hair is so different to locals that they don’t know what to do with it at all. And things like straighteners and hairdryers may be in some volunteer’s backpacks, but whether the electricity is on or the humidity /rain are playing nice, well, that’s another matter.
Surrounded by grinning children – this is just how life is out here, with everyone super happy all the time to see us….! That should be sarcastic, but actually it’s more truthful that it was meant. As volunteers, we really do have to go right into the heart of the community, rather than drive around all aloof in our cars. And locals appreciate that, and many are just excited to actually be able to interact with the crazy strange looking person. Or maybe they’re just excited they’re getting their picture taking and can’t wait to put it on facebook.
A smile on our faces – again, to be fair, it could be that when a camera points to us, we have to smile. And there are definitely downs as well as ups in a volunteer’s life. But we’ve chosen to be here for whatever reason, and are living out that desire. And, (most of the time), learning and enjoying, living and experiencing, a whole new way of life.