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How Volunteering Abroad Helped Me Start Healing

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I did not sign up to volunteer to help refugees in Greece because I thought it would help me overcome something in my own life. But the result of taking the leap of being a part of a cause bigger than myself helped me in ways
I didn’t expect at all.

I quit my deadly corporate job a few months back when I received my acceptance letter into my dream master’s program in LA. I was so excited that after four terrible years I was finally free to pursue my passions. I was yearning to be free from this job that made no big impact on anything. It was a job that accentuated my depression and anxiety, and I was so ecstatic that my life was finally progressing forward.

My dream was to volunteer for the refugee crisis in Europe, and with having a few months off before my program started, I asked a good friend if he wanted to join me on the journey. Luckily, he said yes.

We went to northern Greece for two weeks and worked in a warehouse packing vegetables and getting donation boxes together. My friend also prepared lunch for the refugees, and I taught German and Art to the children and helped edit some of their English essays. The refugees were so warm and welcoming, and I was enamored by every one of them, old and young, and the activists from the organizations we joined were so grateful to us for the work and effort we had put in. I met young boys who were tortured back home in Syria and mothers who worried about their children’s education.

The refugees I had the pleasure of interacting with had a spirit I lost a while back. I had recently been diagnosed with PTSD from a traumatic incident in my teenage years and bipolar disorder. I was in a bitter pit trying to desperately navigate myself through the days. I had been hurting intensely and had uncontrollable feelings of self-hatred. I felt like a waste of space for a long time and couldn’t fight off the voice that told me I was worthless.

But spending time volunteering and learning about the struggle of the refugees, I subconsciously started my personal metamorphosis. I was so enthralled in talking to refugees about what they have been through, showing understanding and compassion towards their problems, being so focused on teaching them skills I felt they needed and giving them every last bit of me that I could.

Volunteering did not cure my mental illnesses and it did not cure trauma, which I am still dealing with, but it allowed me to see myself in a light I never allowed before. I felt worthy of people’s time, my skills were worthy, I was worthy of helping others, and I finally feel worthy of healing.

I am so glad I took the step of volunteering because it turned out to be an incredible experience I will treasure forever. I have made lifelong friends I am still in touch with, and I am already planning my next volunteering trip to Greece and this time for much longer.

Leaving the refugees was difficult, especially the children with whom I made a strong bond with in such a short time. When I was leaving, they hugged me tightly and thanked me. What they don’t know is that they also helped me with my own struggles, and they will always have an advocate, cheerleader and friend in me.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock image by AAGGraphics

Originally published: May 31, 2017
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