Sisterhood of the giggling volunteers; how a team of strangers became a family

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Sisterhood of the giggling volunteers; how a team of strangers became a family

To my new sisters; Blogs about my experience volunteering and lessons learned would be incomplete if I didn’t talk about you crazy, strong, loving ladies. I had volunteered before with friends, and travelled with family. I thought I was confident and independent, but when I was asked to volunteer again, with a team of strangers, I froze. My previous vision of myself as a capable independent traveller was shaken. I was nervous. Not nervous enough to turn down the opportunity, just enough to have butterflies and bring all my silly insecurities to the surface. Only a couple of hours after meeting you all, my fears and nerves were behind me.


We were a team of misfits; Princesses, comedians, intellectual deep souls and nurturing mothers. Different characters that somehow fit perfectly, and through our experience, each of your characters

Inspired me in the best way.


From the princesses I learnt the beauty of confidence, kindness and openness. Walking into a room

with their heads held high and a kind smile to share, they were quick to greet and extend a hand of friendship to anyone they met. This simple act said to the stranger, I care and am interested in you. It was an action so simple, so effortless, and so affective. When you cannot depend on language, words and norms from your own culture express yourself, a kind open smile could be all that’s needed to break down barriers to make room for progress. I know these women have been leaders in their own communities for a while, using their natural talent to make their world a better place. I hope from this they know that they inspired the rest of us to do the same wherever we can.


From the comedians I learnt the invaluable worth of a good giggle. Any situation can be improved with bit of a laugh. Any time things were tough you’d know just how to see the bright side and

make sure we saw it too. And when things weren’t tough there was no holding you back! I think I

developed stomach muscles I didn’t know I had over that month just from laughing! Laughing brought us together and gave us memories that will last forever. I learnt to stop taking this short life so seriously. All the strongest memories are the happiest ones, so the happier I can be, the more memories I can make.


From the intellectuals I learnt the most empowering lesson. They were never scared to walk their own way, trust their instinct and stand up for what they cared about, they made me see myself in a whole new light. You don’t need to follow the crowd. Fitting in might seem easier sometimes, but why? Why not let the things that make you unique shine through? By gently pushing through what was expected of them, they used their uniqueness and skills to do more, so much more, and leave a

lasting change behind them. They empowered me to use my unique skills and talents and work with

local experts on prosthesis for a young man who thought he might never walk again. Thank you for

empowering me to make that idea a reality.


From the nurturing mothers I learnt to patience, acceptance and understanding. Never settling for

the ‘what’, you always cared enough to try to understand ‘why’. From you, I learnt that when you

understand the ‘why’, the ‘what’ becomes something very different. The ‘why’ helps us understand

each other, care for each other and work together moving forward even if the ‘what’ might have

divided us. You pushed us and backed us and brought us together no matter what happened. You

made us the family that we are.


I know while you are reading this you will be trying to guess which bracket you fit into. Maybe when

we first came together you did fit into one, but by the end of our time together I had seen

each of you display these wonderful qualities after we had all been learning from one another.

For anyone else reading this, I hope you get the opportunity to volunteer abroad and don’t walk away in fear as I nearly did, because you might be blessed as I was with a new family of misfits.


Action Project

I chose to run a public photography & developmental educational exhibition in a popular Galway

Café. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and although I had attempted to share my

learnings and experiences verbally but found that nothing makes information more memorable, or

catches attention quite like a visual display.


Each image in the exhibition was accompanied by a statistic, fact or personal caption related to the images content. The aim was to raise awareness around the facts about Leprosy, the real statistics and current situation in India (as part of No.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals). After spending time in India, I understood that education was the only way to break down societies misunderstandings about the disease and break social prejudice that has been created over years of unaddressed information and fear of illness. Upon my return from India, I realised that the same lack of understanding and prejudice was present here at home. I experienced friends and family members move a foot away from me upon learning that I had worked closely with leprosy patients. The patients I had been working with were receiving the cure and were not contagious, and even if they had been, my immune system could easily flight the bacteria. The contagious nature of leprosy is one of the many common misconceptions. These experiences taught me first-hand the bias and fear was present still not just in India but in Europe. Many of the same people said, ‘I thought leprosy was long gone, centuries ago’. It was then that I knew I wanted to make sure the education required for progress was also being shared not just in counties where the disease was present, but also here at home. I wanted to replace myth and misinformation with facts, statistics and real human experiences. I wanted to raise awareness and encourage action and knowledge sharing.


Café Temple is a heaven for free and progressive thinkers. They encourage healthy lifestyles,

caring for the planet and each other, and promote the global goals. They were delighted to host the

gallery and help me to educate any and all who expressed an interest.

The venue is also a tourist hot-spot. With an estimated 1.5 million overseas visitors to Galway each

year, I am hopeful that this location will help educate and spread the true facts far and wide. This is

my 1st step towards changing the myths and prejudice surrounding leprosy.

About Author:

Name: Kate Griffin
Award: Silver Award