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Survey says 100% of overseas volunteers would do it again

Catherine Stengel visiting an orphanage in Kenya in 2010. (Photo courtesy of Catherine Stengel.)

With so many people needing help in the U.S., why volunteer in another country?

It’s a question that Catherine Stengel, 44, is prepared to answer.

“There is no doubt that there are many people in need and rampant poverty in parts of the U.S.,” she explains. “But what you see overseas is how culture and governmental strife play a part in the poor quality of life—and how that way of life is often seen as normal and not needing any change or intervention. These are very sad situations, but you really see how your little effort can make a huge impact in their lives.”

Stengel, a communications professional in Atlanta, is one of the people who participated in Facebook and Medium and Message surveys last week about cross-border volunteerism.

The survey findings reveal that 44 percent of participants said they had volunteered outside the U.S.; 100% of them said they would love to do it again. Stengel is one of them.

“I joined a group of airline employees who went to Ecuador in 2000. We brought computers and school supplies to the Centro del Muchacho Trabajador (Working Boys Center) and spent a couple of days helping out with meals and classes,” she says.

“We also brought household supplies to a small, remote village about a three-hour drive from Quito. We were escorted by the military due to safety concerns,” Stengel adds.

In 2010, she went with a group to Kenya, where she visited three orphanages and the Kibera slum.

“Your attitude toward the challenges and struggles in life are put into perspective when you walk into the lives of people in need,” she observes.

“I would say the biggest thing I was hit with in Kenya was how happy these children were,” she says. “We were greeted with joyful singing, warm hugs, and big smiles. The kids were genuinely cheerful and loved their meager belongings and the people who cared for them. They might go to the bathroom in a small wooden shack, raise rabbits not as pets but for food, and wear the same dirty, torn outfit for weeks at a time; but they are laughing, giggling, and running around like any normal happy child.

“This taught us that, if these children can be this resilient, we can certainly survive the small challenges and issues we face in our much more bountiful life,” Stengel says.

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