Hannah Speaks: “Oh You Are Brave”

“Oh you are brave”…

Is the phrase I kept hearing when telling people my plans. To some it seemed ‘brave’ to walk away from a great job, rent out my newly renovated flat and travel to Asia on a one way ticket, but I was restless and had a desire for an adventure.  I knew that heading off to be inspired again would only enhance my future employability in some way or another, so didn’t see it as being daring. To be honest the hardest bit was handing in my notice, once that was done everything just started to fall into place.

I have worked in the charity sector for the past nine years and before that the commercial sector. I’ve always been ambitious and on leaving Uni I had every intention to climb to a senior position and here I was in a Head of Department role with a lovely life in London, but I had still had an urge I couldn’t shake off, I wanted to push myself out of the confines of my everyday life.

I started googling what opportunities there were for a 30+ year old professional to travel with purpose and to volunteer in a developing country, which wouldn’t require me to volunteer with animals or children. Both rewarding projects of course but just not where my experience lay. I had travelled in my 20’s and absolutely loved it, but now I was older I wasn’t keen to start hostelling around Asia again as a backpacker. Yes I wanted to travel, but I also wanted to use my skills to experience working within a new community and culture, so was absolutely thrilled to find _SocialStarters on one rainy Sunday morning and I kept reading their blog and following them online waiting for the right moment to get involved.

As soon as I saw _SocialStarters were looking for a Programme Coordinator in Sri Lanka I got in touch. It seemed like such a great way to travel, live abroad, learn and use my skills and be part of the inspiring global social enterprise movement. And so far it hasn’t disappointed. The first few weeks living in the vibrant city of Colombo has been focused on preparing for the arrival of our February programme’s “Social Impact Consultants” (skilled professionals like me who have come to develop themselves and share their skills with a grassroots social impact client). And so I have been heavily recruiting the social enterprises they will be working with during their 6 week stay. Also we’ve been making friends and building our networks, so we can learn and understand the culture here to feed into the “immersion experience” the forthcoming participants bought into.

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I have been reminded of the patience you need when travelling around Asia, a personality trait I would love to have more of. Hopefully that’s something I will come away with from this experience. I also have realised that as visitors to a new country we cannot and shouldn’t expect order and process to be the same, how boring would travelling be if that was the case?! Yes things here work very differently at times but the Sri Lankan people are quite literally the most helpful and generous people I have ever met so it works, it’s just about learning acceptance. And yes the traffic is crazy and tuk tuk drivers rarely know where you need to go, but they will do all that they can to find your destination, from phoning ahead asking for directions, or stopping every driver on the way to ask….this eagerness to help is unbelievably endearing.

I have only been in Colombo for 2 weeks and I’ve already met such extraordinarily generous and welcoming people, who are all passionate citizens of Sri Lanka and willing and eager to do all that they can to help _SocialStarters build on their ever growing community of social entrepreneurs in this wonderful teardrop island.

So no I don’t think I’m brave at all, this is going to be once in a lifetime experience.

Written by Hannah Sheedy, Programme Co-Ordinator for Sri Lanka in February 2016. Hannah recently worked in London for the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust as the Head of Fundraising & Marketing.

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