Gila Cohen-Shaw marked her mid-century birthday with a “Gift of Service” to herself through Global Volunteers in St. Lucia (pictured above receiving a hug from a teammate). She followed it up with two service programs in Tanzania shortly afterward. A speech pathologist and therapist by profession, she’s found great reward in the work of our Reaching Children’s Potential (RCP) program in both countries, and currently serves on our RCP committee. Here she shares her reflections on her latest program in Tanzania.
What first motivated you to participate on a Global Volunteers service program?
When I turned 50, my gift to myself was to express gratitude, so it took the form of my first Global Volunteers service trip to St. Lucia. I was then invited to serve on the RCP (Reaching Children’s Potential) committee of Global Volunteers and share my professional skills and knowledge. I joined the second team in Ipalamwa, Tanzania, just as that program was starting up. The beautiful people, culture, and genuine enthusiasm of the villagers for a better life for their children called me back immediately. I signed up for my third service trip, second to Ipalamwa, within a week of returning home!
How did you hope to contribute to the program?
As a pathologist with years of experience in early childhood development, my initial expectation was I would be of service focusing on language development. It was clear that the needs were great – and I was willing to do anything within my skill set, and to learn to do things outside of my skill set! My attitude was, and is, “I will do what I am needed to do.”
In what ways were you able to use your skills and be of service to others?
Conducting home visits, I was able to answer questions from parents and caregivers about what to expect developmentally from their children as well as model how to engage children in language-rich experiences. Outside of my skills set, we built over 200 handwashing stations! On this program, getting out of my own comfort zone was most rewarding for me personally, and I received far more than I gave in that respect.
What’s your advice to people who may be considering a short-term international volunteer opportunity with Global Volunteers?
Go! Go with an open heart and mind. Expand your knowledge of others cultures and you will receive far, far more than you came to give. And then – go back!
The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived, and lived well. -Ralph Waldo Emerson
Interested in volunteering in Tanzania? Check out these blog posts: