Four-time Global Volunteer Gemma Lewis has always been passionate about supporting children and their families. As a Children’s Care Coordinator with the National Health Service in the UK, she works with families of children living with severe disabilities to ensure they receive appropriate physical and emotional interventions. It was with this focus on practical support she served on our Tanzania Service Program and shares her perspective:
“My role at home involves supporting families with children who have complex medical needs. It’s a job I love to do. The opportunity to help children and mothers in Tanzania was fabulous – I loved joining the caregivers on their home visits in Ipalwama. That role is very similar to mine back in the UK, and it was great to compare notes and visit with them. I also recognized the importance of listening, showing an interest and being just there. After all, I love children! Parents were keen to hear about my work in the UK and asked lots of questions, and of course, wanted my guidance on a variety of topics. I also learned a lot from them and the caregivers too, especially their positive attitude in what can sometimes be a challenging situation.
I just love volunteering with Global Volunteers. I have limited annual leave and can only take two weeks holiday at a time so this kind of service enables me to experience the culture, discover the county that I serve in a limited time frame, and most importantly – connect with the local people. I have always loved traveling and the opportunities it brings. Volunteering enables me to experience the culture of a county in more depth than a regular tourist on a typical holiday. Spending two weeks living in the community and working with local people gives me an insight into their way of life.
“I like the challenge of being out of my comfort zone without being isolated.”
Participating in an organized service program, just like the programs Global Volunteers provides, I know that from the moment I arrive, I will be living and working with the local people. This gives me the opportunity to understand their way of thinking, interact with them, experience the culture, which includes their daily lives and struggles. By serving with Global Volunteers, I also know that my role is to serve a community that has asked for our help, they have asked for volunteers to be there, to support them, without intruding and imposing our ideas on them but, rather by sharing ideas and learning from one another.
“The importance of listening, showing an interest and just being there is what matters. This doesn’t just apply to volunteer work but to all aspects of life. It is not always about physically doing something it is about letting other people know that you care enough about them to be there. This life lesson has stayed with me and I now use it in my current working life.”
When I served with Global Volunteers in 2015 and 2016, I had re-trained to be a nurse, so I was able to use my skills as a children’s nursing assistant and infant massage instructor interacting and supporting the children in the hospital, and offering support to new parents. Positive touch is so important, and many of the children have never experienced it.
Everyone has something to offer, and I love hearing other people’s experiences. Volunteering allows me to meet diverse people, from different cultures and backgrounds and the opportunity for us all to share our personal experiences and knowledge. For me personally, I look for programmes and countries that suit my interests and skills. I will always look for programmes supporting children and their families abroad, especially if I can work hands-on with them. I want to enjoy what I do and to learn from the experience.
“I receive a reality check when I volunteer, which brings me back down to earth.”
For me, the emphasis is about sharing. I always return home having learned something new from the local people as well as my fellow volunteers.