I’ve always had a big interest in the stories of others. I love listening, drawing people out,
studying the ways other people’s lives and concerns contrast with or echo my own. I guess that kind of predisposes me for volunteer work, though I really have to credit my mom with instilling in me a ‘give back’ mentality. An inpatient pediatric physical therapist (who also finds time to volunteer), she’s a study in patience and amazing work ethic, with an uncanny ability to anticipate the needs of others and meet them. I couldn’t have asked for a better role model and, because of her, have been a volunteer since childhood.
Every volunteer experience I’ve had has been meaningful, but perhaps the one that resonated most was the nearly 5 weeks I spent at an HIV/AIDS clinic in Uganda. I knew going in that I was about to gain a totally new perspective, but the impact this journey actually had on my life was unexpected and profound. The commitment I feel to the Ugandan people, and my connection to Ugandan women, will endure throughout my lifetime.
It remains challenging to explain my time in Uganda to those that have never been there (or anywhere similar). The best I can do is to say that you will never feel so impressed, inspired, humbled and blessed than upon meeting these people. Then I would tell you that, if you are able, you should go. But know that there are crucial parts to play and so many ways to help, whether you go or not. Volunteer opportunities of every description abound everywhere, and you don’t necessarily need to be on site to make meaningful, sustainable changes in the lives of others.
Janika co-owns WhaleSaid on Etsy, which offers original, hand-made jewelry, art and accessories, with friend and fellow CMe Stories designer, Sarah Blackbourn.