Volunteering: how women can pay it forward
A pair of shoes to a gift of love
Volunteering to help with a Christmas project three years ago has developed into an incredible opportunity for me. Samaritans Purse’s Operation Christmas Child was set up ten years ago by a couple who had seen such traumatic pictures of orphanages in Romania they felt they had to do something to help. Their project has now developed into a worldwide organisation, which last year saw 9,950,000 shoeboxes filled with gifts sent to countries in need.
I opened a processing warehouse in my home town, bringing together a team of volunteers we worked locally to collect, process and pack shoeboxes filled with gifts from donors in the surrounding area. When I was asked if our team would like to visit a country in need, and distribute the shoeboxes to the children personally, it was an opportunity I could not miss!
I thought heading out to Belarus to hand out shoeboxes filled with gifts for children in poverty would break my heart. I had expected to see sadness and desperation on the children's faces when we visited the orphanages, schools and hospitals. What I didn't expect was to feel so blessed by these children and the experience they gave me. I was proud to be part of something so special which is Operation Christmas Child.
Our purpose was to try to show the children of Belarus that they are not forgotten and are loved. Every shoebox handed out we hope and pray did this job. We met so many children during our few days and each story was different. The orphans, all living together at their school were desperately waiting for us to arrive. Most were shy about receiving their gift, many taking time to open their box, wanting to hold on to the anticipation. In some cases this was the only gift they had ever received.
Unexpected rewards of volunteering
The children's delight was infectious. It was obvious they didn't feel any sadness about what they did not have. We felt excited, thrilled and blessed that we shared their maybe once in their lifetime moment with them. You could see them wondering “Will the shoebox have a toy to play with, some sweets, a warm hat or gloves, maybe a toothbrush I don't have to share, or some pens and paper that is all my own, a cuddly toy I can hold at night, surely not all these things?” Oh yes, all those things and more are in these shoeboxes.
Coming home to the UK and seeing my children with all that they have, didn't make me feel guilty. It made me make sure they know how much they are loved. We must be careful not to get caught up in what we think we need, but to appreciate exactly what we have achieved. Moving forward, I am more determined than ever to let everyone I know how a shoebox of gifts can make such a difference to a child's life and well-being.
Volunteering is a wonderful way for all professional and fortunate women who are so blessed to pay it forward. Contact me if you would like to like to find out more about the charity Operation Christmas Child
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