One of the great personal returns of international volunteering is the friends one makes. Late last week I returned from Ukraine where I was an observer to the local elections. It was an interesting and satisfying mission. A lot of new friends were made (see photo of our team in Poltava) and many old acquaintances and friendships were renewed. I saw friends whom I hadn’t seen since 2001 when we worked together on refugee elections in Kosovo.
The Ukraine mission reminded me of why I volunteer internationally. Not only is there a great satisfaction in contributing to an international project, there are the priceless friendships that are developed with like-minded individuals from around the world. . I still have friends in Guatemala whom I met when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer there in 1991-92. Young people I met and worked with, while there, are now married and have families. I have met their children. Interpreters with whom I worked in the Balkans, in the late 90s, are still good friends. In fact, I am planning a trip in the spring to visit some of those friends. A bonus gift of these friendships is the understanding they bring of how close we are as citizens of the world. Wherever I have been I have noticed a common thread that runs through most of humanity. It is the wish for peace, security and opportunity for our families. If we, as volunteers, can contribute to the fulfillment of those wishes for the people we have served, we have succeeded in our mission.