Volunteering with a company/organisation can be an interesting and totally different experience, as I quickly found over the last few months. Dependent on your own headspace and the general vibes that you get from other workers. I am no master of this type of work, but I have always been interested in immersing myself into a volunteer situation. I never really wanted or expected anything in particular from such an opportunity, nothing more than an experience.
I have recently had the chance to help run a surf camp in the Canary Islands. The opportunity I found on workaway, a website I knew relatively little about until my friends travelmindedpeople told me a little about their experiences. They have had some really good months helping others and traveling at the same time. These guys are kings of creating opportunity and you have to admire what they have achieved over the last 15 months.
An experience such as this, working without monetary payment, needless to say, requires an open mind and furthermore on your ability to freely communicate a wide range of people. People from all ‘walks of life’ as some may say. You jump a flight and go to a bus stop in the hope that a random person you haven’t met will come good on the promise of collecting you. It doesn’t feel like an intuitive decision. Furthermore, you sign up to help a business, family, community potentially doing something you have little to no experiences doing before. Luckily for me, I was tasked with helping to teach people how to surf. Leaving me free to enjoy the rest of my time on this island.
It takes an approachable human to comfortably integrate into a group of random people. The team that I joined were also workaway volunteers and I was greeted with a plate of food and a drink on arrival. This first day or two became a social observation, I was joining an established team and wanted to find my place. For me, I find it best to be positive about everything. Helping others to achieve a common goal is what it really boils down too, pride and self-importance need to be left at home. If you are of the opinion that you are above certain tasks one would only assume you are not going to be volunteering your time for someone else’s greater good. And that is just it, you’re going to find yourself working for others goals. With the willingness to gain new experiences there is a sense of community to be found while volunteering. Community brings people together and allows positive interactions between humans helping to create a ‘happier’ and more enjoyable life. Happy is the right word here but I don’t like to use it as it is the opposite of sad and we too often just group things into two large groupings for ease. As a wise young man once said ‘you can’t just lump everything into these two categories’ (Donnie Darko – on fear and love). I diverge…
My position, as previously mentioned, was to teach people to surf. Luckily for me, I love the ocean. So a lot of my time was spent in the water with guests, swimming around with them, helping them to overcome fears of moving water, and pushing some into waves. However, I quickly learned that my position was more than that. Volunteering in a camp required more than just doing the one task you were asked to do. Helping to clean up areas of the camp, entertaining the guests, showing them to the local beaches and offering to take them hiking or other activities around surfing which was all apart of it… For sure I didn’t have to do all of this, but personally, I felt as though it was just helping to create a good environment for the guests. Some days there was no off switch. Nonetheless, I loved those days more. The days where I could just run wild with people on vacation and have a good time with them doing whatever it was they wanted to do on that given day. There is something really pleasant about being around strangers and still having a really good time together.
Interacting with the guests was always the best part of the day. A forever changing face and story. I am not sure that everyone felt the same as myself, however, given that teaching learn to surf was guest focused, I felt that they should always come first. As a community feel is key to a camp working, you could see when there was a social interaction between guests and volunteers that the moral was lifted. Everyone became involved and the day seemed to run much better. Days became fluid and people’s minds were relaxed.
During my time I spent hours talking to people from other parts of the world and different cultures to my own. Stories about remembering the Berlin Wall coming down, current poverty-stricken areas that few had fled from in parts of South America, and a plethora of peoples personal hardships along with aspirations and drives. Providing insight to the fact that all humans have their own stories, for me, this just solidifies that fact that it cost nothing to be nice to someone. A smile and a seven-second hug (if you haven’t tried it, do so please) can go along way in breaking down social awkwardness. Weird and wonderful stories spewed across a table filled with empty beer cans. Friends were made and commonalities also found.
Volunteering gave me the opportunity to invest time in being in one place and make sure that those around me were enjoying their time as much as they wanted. I was able to learn about the business side of running a surf school and relax at the same time. I would now love to see what it would be like volunteering in an area I know nothing about. This might be a great challenge to face.
Overall, adventures were had and many hours spent in the ocean. After all, that was the key to the Canaries… get back into the ocean and enjoy. I can’t wait for the coming months, let’s see what it has got in store.