While I love my job here at YCI, sending volunteers out on project can be a simultaneously rewarding and frustrating process. Rewarding, because I believe in the capabilities, energy and enthusiasm of our youth, but frustrating because I feel so far removed from it—and I’ll admit, partially because I’m a little jealous!
It’s been over two years since I returned from my own project in Vanuatu. I was starting to feel a bit restless, so when I found myself with a long weekend booked off and no concrete plans, I knew what I had to do. No plan, no itinerary—just a plane ticket to Halifax, and the desire to sit beside the ocean.
It was the first time since Vanuatu that I’ve traveled alone, so I contact a fellow volunteer, whom I hadn’t seen since a post-project trip in Australia. We hadn’t been placed on project together (we worked on separate islands), but during the five-day pre-departure session, I found that I was at ease speaking with him. It truly was the YCI experience—in challenging circumstance, removed from all your familiar support networks, new friendships and connections come quick, fast and strong.
After spending the afternoon at a beach in southwest Nova Scotia, I nervously went to pick up my friend. I mentally prepared myself, reminding myself that really, apart from a few days and a few emails back and forth, I didn’t know anything about him. And so far removed from the context of Vanuatu, we probably had little in common. “I live pretty much the same way that I did in Vanuatu,” he told me, only half-joking. I was envious. “I work in an office, wear skirts and heels every day, buy organic produce, recycle, have a comprehensive benefits plan and worry too much,” I told him. “I’m pretty much a yuppie.”
But there was comfort and ease in our shared history. (Albeit, that history was limited to five-odd days in Vanuatu, and a couple of days spent ocean-side in Byron Bay, Australia.) I anticipated that I’d spend the weekend with him reminiscing, but instead I found myself listening—a lot. In Vanuatu, my role within my group was the ear, the shoulder to lean on and the mediator. I rarely play this role in my home life in Canada, but I was surprised to discover how easily it still suited me.
This past Saturday, I sat with a group of four young women headed to Costa Rica discussing their fears, their hopes and their expectations for their project. While they seemed excited about the work they were setting out to do, it was evident that what they were most excited about was developing friendships and connections with one another. Not even on the plane yet, they had already begun identifying as a group, while tying together the threads of their separate histories and identities. I have no doubt in my mind that during the next ten weeks they’ll not only develop lifelong connections, but learn little unexpected bits about themselves along the way.
As for my fellow volunteers from V6-6A, some I keep in close contact with, while I haven’t spoken with others at all. But after going out east, I know that despite the passage of time, the commonalities of our shared history and experience with YCI will keep those connections strong. And even if I don’t see my fellow volunteers or Vanuatu again, it doesn’t matter—because in those six weeks, I learned more about my own history, beliefs and capabilities than I ever thought possible.
-Jessica Lockhart, Office Manager