Take a Break to Make a Difference

Taryn's forehead is marked with tika to celebrate Dashain.

Taryn Lilliston was an American college student who was unsure what direction she wanted to take with her education. Instead of pursuing classes, she decided to take a break from college and pursue the world. Taryn found the Global Volunteer Network (GVN) by looking for an opportunity to give back. GVN is a relatively new non-governmental organization (NGO), launched in December 2000, whose vision is to connect people with communities in need.

Knowing that uprooting herself to volunteer in another country would present many challenges, Taryn chose to work somewhere culturally close to home. She signed up to volunteer for the Stop Child Poverty campaign in GVN’s New Zealand headquarters. “I had never traveled by myself before, so I figured going to some place like New Zealand before somewhere like Africa would help me ease into it a little bit,” she said.

In New Zealand she began her month-long journey to work in the office at the headquarters. Her work included an array of office work such as fundraising, building contacts and databases, and assembling informational packets concerning social activism. One project that captivated Taryn involved hosting dinner parties where donations could be made to the Kenyan Children’s Fund. The project took off: “It was incredibly successful, we raised something like 38,000 USD….It is amazing what people can do by just having dinner together.” Taryn’s enthusiasm prompted her parents to get involved by hosting their own dinner party back home.

After her incredible experience in New Zealand, Taryn decided to volunteer through GVN again. This time she challenged herself with a longer volunteer experience in an orphanage in much more hands-on role. Her stay at the Jyoti Children's Home was a three-month obligation that began with a training course which gave her the basics on the language, customs and culture.

Taryn stayed with a Nepali family where her culture shock was immediate. She recalls, “There were goats in the kitchen, and we ate on the floor, it was just so different from anything that I’ve ever seen.” She was also forced to give up her anonymity: “In my village I was the only white person, and I was constantly stared at.” She had to come to grips with people’s curiosity about her.

Kids at the orphanage eat daal bhaat, a dish of lentils and rice.

The loss of anonymity proved a small obstacle in comparison with the challenges of working in a Nepali orphanage. Taryn shared the responsibility of taking care of eight children with a 16 year old Nepali girl, doing everything from helping the kids with their school work, to performing head-to-toe health checkups. The responsibility of her role was intense, and seeing the plight of the children’s daily life took its toll.

After one particularly difficult day Taryn questioned her ability to make a difference. The day centered around a little boy whom, she explains, “had the most furious mood swings I have ever seen. He would go from playing with the boys one minute to an almost catatonic state where he could not be reached.” Taryn took the kids to a parade celebrating a Holy Day and kept losing this boy, who insisted on going his own way. A day that was intended for celebration turned into a day of frustration where none of the children could watch or participate in the parade because they were constantly finding and losing this boy.

Flying kites in the village of Bistachap.

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