This inspirational woman travels the world volunteering

This inspirational woman travels the world volunteering

25 February 2014


KRISTY has visited over 60 countries during her travels, but she does things differently to most other tourists. Find out why you want to be like her ...

THERE’S travelling and then there’s travelling. Thirty-two year old Kristy Moore does the latter.

She travels to volunteer and to get an idea about countries in which she could volunteer in the future. To date, she’s visited over 60 countries, volunteered in four continents, worked in seven countries and lived in four countries too.

And she’s not slowing down. Kristy is a passionate helper and traveller and combines her two loves to better other people’s lives and to better herself. And she gets to see the world while she does it! What could be cooler than that?

How long have you been volunteering?

The first volunteer experience I recall was fundraising for the Royal Children’s Hospital appeal when I was a young child. I’m 32 now and I’ve been spreading smiles as a volunteer with the Starlight Children’s Foundation of Australia since 2002.

Where are you living right now?

Melbourne is home right now, but I definitely feel like a citizen of the world (the stamps filling my multiple Australian passports can attest to that too). I appreciate life in Australia much more after each of my trips overseas.

When did you make an active decision to change your life?

My first international volunteer experience was a catalyst for positive change in my own life. At the time I worked as a senior manager in a successful (but stressful) corporate consulting career, and I wanted work that was more fulfilling. I walked away from the only career I’d known immediately after volunteering in Bolivia. Now I use my business skills for consulting in the social enterprise and non-profit sector. I’m especially excited and proud to make it easier for Australian families, business leaders and teams to volunteer overseas (with Hand Up Australia) — with peace of mind that their contribution will be positive and lasting.

How did you choose where to volunteer and how did this grow?

My first hands-on international volunteer role was in Cochabamba, Bolivia. I had travel plans to trek in Peru with a friend and decided that no matter how hard it was to find a suitable volunteer role, this time I would make it happen. I chose Bolivia as it’s the poorest country in the region. I found a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that accepted international volunteers in a children’s hospital and thought my experience with the Starlight Children’s Foundation would help. Left entirely to my own devices (and limited local language), it was certainly an eye opening volunteer experience. Years later I still have lingering doubts about the viability of the NGO’s work and have since learnt that low cost and independent is often not the best.

The options to volunteer overseas are growing. I recommend that interested volunteers look for programs where:

• The needs of the communities (the real beneficiaries) come first;

• The solutions they’ll be helping with are addressing the root causes of problems like poverty, rather than patching up the symptoms;

• Local community members are engaged and leading projects — you can’t simply build a school and hope the students will come, nor do you want a community to become dependent on outside help;

• There are measures for the personal safety of volunteers;

• Support before, during and after they volunteer — this is very important. It’s common for volunteers to underestimate the impact of reverse culture shock. I was guilty of this when I volunteered independently in Bolivia and found it challenging to transition back into life at home.

What inspired the change? How did you do it?

I understand why the voluntourism industry sometimes gets a bad rap, and I am happy to be able to share insights with people on successful volunteer travel models. I’ve learnt from first-hand experience of both independent/cheap programs and high-end organised volunteer programs that volunteer travel is complex and it can be challenging for well-intended travellers to get peace of mind that their contribution will be positive and lasting — but it is possible and there are many amazing people and groups achieving great things through community-led programs where the community’s needs come first.

Most people are way too scared to drop everything and just go — what’s different about you?

Travelling and volunteering have been my best educators — for life, work and family. I caught the travel bug from my well-travelled grandfather and the idea of not travelling fills me with dread.

Any a few highlight experiences that you want to tell us about?

A wonderful international volunteer moment for me was in the Maasai Mara region of, Kenya. Being welcomed like family by proud Maasai and Kipsigi mothers, hearing their stories of how far they’ve come lifting themselves and their families out of poverty, and learning from their experiences that anything really is possible. This was part of a facilitated volunteer program, and the irony is I found it to be more culturally immersive than a homestay due to the depth of conversation and strong partnership between the community members and the community development organisation. Most recently in India, at the end of a big day of volunteer bricklaying on a school toilet block, the volunteer group and I played cricket with local staff. Connecting over cricket was one way to show our appreciation for their hospitality, and it was amazing to see their enormous smiles.

How do you immerse yourself in local life?

It depends on the country and culture, but a few ways I’ve felt immersed in local life are:

• Homestays.

• Attending local events that are unlike anything we have in Australia.

• Travelling off the beaten track and not seeing another foreigner (other than my own travel companions).

• Overcoming language barriers through games, sport and laughter with locals.

• Working alongside locals as a volunteer.

Do you think you will always be a volunteer?

Definitely! Volunteering is such a big part of who I am. Volunteering is essentially giving your time to others and your time is a valuable gift to give. My own volunteering will change over time as I seek to make a bigger impact with the time I contribute.

There are many ways people can volunteer, locally and globally and I believe volunteering can fit into any lifestyle. Offering pro-bono work, challenging yourself to try new things (often unfairly referred to as ‘unskilled volunteering’), or sharing your strengths, interests and skills to benefit others are a few ways to volunteer. Roles can be one-off, short term or long term, and there is no single right or wrong way to donate your time.

Anything fun, quirky, interesting you want to add?

A surprising aspect of volunteering overseas is that many people are primarily motivated to ‘help others.’ These ‘other people’ are perceived as being less fortunate, yet often the lives of volunteers change as a result of the new perspectives that volunteering and travelling give them. Volunteering has certainly changed my own life and I recently watched a group of Australian volunteers achieve incredible personal growth and gratitude, while leading their two-week volunteer trip in rural India. Seeing first-hand the difference they were making in the lives of others, and the big smiles of people who have very little, will impact a volunteer — one way or another. That’s why I believe that volunteering (locally and globally) can be positively life-changing for both the beneficiaries and the volunteers themselves.

Do you have any hints for others wanting to combine volunteering with travelling around the world?

Many people say they want to combine volunteering with travelling, however the idea often gets put off or becomes too hard. My number one tip is to find a way to make it happen and go.

When you do go — remember to pack an open heart and an open mind.

Kristy on Twitter: @happytravelbug

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