Welcome back to our new interview series, The Ripple Effect. The Ripple Effect explores the emotional impact of volunteer travel and its lasting effect on people’s lives. Today we’re speaking with Terri Wingham, a truly inspirational woman. As a cancer survivor, Terri has been through one of life’s greatest challenges and has come out the other side, vibrantly alive and passionate about to helping others. She has found hope through volunteering.
In her words…
In the last year, I have become a cultivator of hope. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. Hope doesn’t make the misery go away or instantly transport you into a mythical utopia where unicorns frolic and vibrant rainbows ignite the sky. But, for me, hope is like holding onto a thick rope while walking through a dark cave. You can’t yet see anything, but you know that if you keep walking and keep holding the rope, you will eventually emerge out of the cold dampness of the cave and into the warmth of the afternoon sun.
Your Adventure of Hope is so inspiring! How did it come about?
In October of 2009, a diagnosis of breast cancer changed my life forever. Single and 30, my life had revolved around my career, my workouts, and my friends. The next 18 months of treatment challenged my physical and emotional limits, but I never anticipated the difficulty of emerging out of chemotherapy and surgeries and feeling like cancer had changed me so much that my old life didn’t fit me anymore. Thankfully, an idea to volunteer in Africa with Cross-Cultural Solutions (CCS) gave me a chance to heal emotionally and sparked an idea for a foundation to help other cancer survivors volunteer internationally. My recent six-month RTW Adventure of Hope gave me a chance to evaluate a variety of countries and volunteer organizations to determine which ones I want to form long term partnerships with. My selection criteria included pre-departure support, in country support, safety records, and ethical volunteer practices.
How did you decide where to go and what organizations to work with?
In selecting my target countries, I knew I wanted to volunteer on almost every continent so I could compare locations. I also selected countries I thought would appeal to other survivors and had relatively established volunteer practices.
After my incredibly positive experience volunteering with CCS in Cape Town, I knew I wanted to involve one of the their other project sites in my trip around the world. At the time, going to India made me the most nervous, so I chose to partner with CCS there because I knew they would take care of every little detail and ensure I felt completely safe.
As I started to actively plan how I could make the Adventure of Hope happen, I saw a Leave-A-Review contest on the GO Overseas website for $2500 subsidy towards a flight around the world. With luck on my side, I won the contest and built a relationship with Mitch Gordon and Tucker Hutchinson of GO Overseas. They have both been phenomenal in supporting me and they facilitated introductions to some of the best organizations in the volunteering industry. I feel very luck that GVN, GVI, IVHQ, ProWorld, and GeoVisions joined CCS in sponsoring my program fees to volunteer in 6 different countries.
Could you talk a bit about how your struggle with cancer has informed your volunteering work? In other words, do you feel like it has changed the way you relate to other people, specifically people who are suffering?
My experience with cancer changed my perspective on life and struggle. First of all, having experienced cancer, I don’t ever take for granted my health and how lucky I am to be able to travel around the world and do this kind of work. In 2010, I could barely travel from my bed to the couch, so you can only imagine how many pinch-myself moments I had on my Adventure of Hope. Secondly, my experience with cancer has given me more compassion and I feel in a better position to witness people’s suffering without pitying them. Pity creates a wall between the volunteer and the person he or she is helping. Instead, compassion allows me to see people for more than their suffering or their struggles, if that makes sense?
Do you think spending time with underprivileged people has helped you gain perspective on your own pain and fear?
Absolutely. Some of the “underprivileged” people I met actually had so much more love and optimism in their lives than some of the most “privileged” people I know in the more developed world. I met people who would offer me their last cup of chai tea or invite me to eat with them, even if it meant they went hungry. In many countries around the world, people expect life to be a struggle, but it doesn’t stop them from getting up in the morning and doing whatever they have to do to survive. In my moments of fear over the cancer coming back, I remember this resilience and it gives me strength.
Please check in tomorrow to read more about Terri Wingham’s incredible journey. You can also visit her website to learn more.