Travelling the World with Impact
When I think back on my time spent volunteering in southern India, I don’t remember the extreme heat, endless dust, scurrying cockroaches or lack of hot water. I don’t remember the random electricity outages, the poor sanitation or the barking street dogs. None of these things pop into my mind at first.
My most vivid memories are the smiles. Despite the extreme language barrier and cultural divide, I witnessed the genuine happiness of others like never before.
As a volunteer physiotherapist at Samuha Samarthya, I was working with a group of men who had suffered spinal cord injuries. Located in the rural town of Koppal, Karnataka, this independent NGO strives to improve the quality of life of vulnerable peoples, including women, children and those with disabilities. I helped these men improve their physical, mental and emotional health and overcome the challenges associated with a spinal cord injury. In the eight weeks I was there, I watched each person overcome life-changing obstacles, celebrate milestones and re-establish their independence. They smiled at me each day, despite all they had been through. I felt their joy like it was my own. We couldn’t communicate with many words, but their smiles and tears said it all. This feeling of connectedness is what I remember most about volunteering abroad.
Upon completing my time in India, I spent the next six months backpacking through South East Asia. During this trip, I realised that I loved travel but didn’t want the typical backpacker lifestyle. I redefined my travel goals and set off on a new venture- to travel with impact. These days, I combine work, travel and volunteering whenever possible. And the best part is, I have met other digital nomads and location-independent entrepreneurs who have decided to do the same.
I spoke with Nelson Santos, who’s currently based in Colombia, about his experience as a volunteering entrepreneur. Nelson has been on a mission to travel and volunteer around the world since 2016 and has volunteered in nine different countries so far. He says:
I want to take my passion for travel and volunteering to the next level. I want to provide better living conditions for people around the world and make the environment more conducive for people to thrive.
He has ventured through Asia, Central America and has now started volunteering in Colombia.
The refugee situation in northern Colombia is getting worse by the day. People are fleeing Venezuela to find food, water and safety. The refugee numbers here are expected to surpass Syria.
Nelson’s passion for volunteering extends beyond his direct impact as an individual. He actively recruits volunteers for social impact projects around the world through his online platform, Volunteer Abroad for Free.
My aim is to chase the dream, not the money. I believe people should be able to access volunteer opportunities freely and easily. I also believe it is important to educate people on the ethics of volunteering abroad. There is always some way for you to make an impact, you just need to choose the right volunteer opportunity for you based on the time and skills you have.
For the future, I envision a lifestyle that allows me to work, travel and volunteer indefinitely. If my time in India taught me anything, it’s that even the smallest of contributions can have a large impact. By investing a mere two months of my own time and effort, I became part of something much bigger than myself. Since 2015, Samuha Samarthya has now assisted over 7,000 women, children and persons with disabilities. Just as a ripple spreads through a pond, the impact of Samuha Samarthya will extend outwards and grow continuously, spreading love and positivity throughout the rural communities of southern India. I am grateful to have been a part of this movement.