By Elizabeth Morris
I sat at the traffic light watching the rain trickle down the windows yet again and felt that always present East Coast of Scotland wind. I knew I had to go and I couldn’t wait any longer. That was the day I booked a one-way flight to Africa.
I was 21 years old with a degree in Communications, pretty stylish, with decent social skills and absolutely no prospect of a job in Scotland. All through school I had the feeling that life was happening somewhere else and it wasn’t here. Or at least not the life I wanted.
I was so desperate for excitement, sun, warmth, and opportunities. It was time for an adventure and I chose Africa as my destination.
It was bright and sunny when I landed and the mild depression I had been feeling since leaving University immediately lifted. I was so excited and happy thinking, “now my life will begin.”
But six months into my African adventure, the less pleasant aspects of Africa began to show. It was hard to land a job in mass media, which is what I was qualified to do with my degree. It seemed like every company needed me to speak at least one other language, preferably Afrikaans or Xhosa. Too bad I hadn’t inherited the language gene from either parent!
But more than that, there were people begging on the street every time I went outside. Children ran barefoot during the winter with only a t-shirt and tattered pants on. Things like not being able to vote bugged me and my spirits began to plummet. I even began to think “Oh crap, I’ve made a monumental mistake.”
The mild depression reappeared, turning the world grey again. Didn’t I say I wanted to come here?
I knew that in addition to being lonely and depressed, I was going to be stubborn.
I was going to make this work and I definitely wasn’t going to go back so my family could say “I told you so!”
So it was in this state of mind that I opened up a little local paper one day and saw an ad asking for volunteers who were available to help out at a new Crisis Centre in the suburb where I lived.
Two British nurses ran the center and best of all, they didn’t need me to speak a second language. They just wanted some volunteers who had a bit of counseling experience which I had as I’d done some training in Edinburgh when I volunteered to work with a bereavement charity.
While it wasn’t a media job, volunteering would get me out of the rented apartment and give me a bit more to add to my resume. I learned at that first meeting that The Centre was a refuge for young girls who were being hired out as prostitutes by their families and my life and mindset changed that day.
I regained my confidence as I saw how volunteers were changing lives. Those girls taught me how to be resilient and grab life with both hands when a chance for change comes along. I was even ashamed that I had almost given up when things were changing so fast before.
Volunteering in Africa pulled me into a group of like-minded, caring people. I felt like a belonged somewhere again, even being thousands of miles from home.
The London School of Economics call it the Happiness Effect. “The more we volunteer, the happier we are likely to be," they say.
Volunteering has become part of my life and showed me a career direction I had never even considered. I now have a career as a social development project manager working with philanthropists, grassroots charities, humanitarian workers with wonderful hearts and absolutely amazing women and children here in Africa. I have had the opportunity to work all over the continent and travel the world.
But you don’t need to jump on a plane to Africa to volunteer. Start close to home by looking for a cause or a passion project in your neighborhood and volunteer a few hours of your time there just to see what it does for you.
Let me know what happens in the comments, I’m always here for questions and stories.
Elizabeth is as an Altruistic Activist working on many projects to change the world and make a difference in the lives of women and children in Africa. Follow her on Facebook and see more of her work here.
Photo by Elizabeth Morris.