With such a busy job, it would be tempting to use my holiday to lie on a beach and relax reading the latest bestseller – but what really refreshes me is spending time away from my desk, embracing a physical challenge and getting my hands dirty.
"It’s beautiful to see the look of hope on the faces of people in a community who have endured so much"Guy Mandziuk
Giving back is important to me
For me, this is everything. Actions speak louder than words, and to give back helps me to define the person I am and what I believe in.
Putting my energy into causes I believe in has similarities to what I value about working for Unilever, a company pioneering new approaches to sustainable business and promoting sustainable living, and fighting for equal opportunities and inclusive opportunities.
It gives me an opportunity to gain perspective and I find new levels of motivation that keep me working hard to deliver great results for Unilever.
So last year, instead of heading to sunny climes for some rest and relaxation, I chose to make the most of Unilever’s volunteering policy to work with the international non-profit, All Hands Volunteers.
Building a new school in Nepal
With the support of my peers and managers, donations from family and friends, and a pair of steel toe-capped boots, I set off to Nuwakot in Nepal, an area that was badly affected by the 7.8 earthquake in 2015.
For three weeks I lived with 80 other international volunteers from countries including Brazil, Portugal, Romania and India, to name just a few.
Our project was building two reinforced school buildings – each two-storeys high – in the village of Bidur.
The original school had collapsed during the earthquake, and the 200 plus children from the surrounding villages were in temporary buildings that fell well below the standard they needed to study comfortably and safely.
Each day we woke up at 05:45am, thanks to the simultaneous trill of 30 phone alarms going off in our dorm room. Work started at 06:40am when we got on our bus to travel to the site.
After a quick morning briefing, it was time to join your designated team. You could be working with the local masons doing brick work or you could be doing carpentry or – my personal favourite – working with the team that unloads and pours concrete.
Lunch was always a welcome break from the 35 degree heat at 11:30am and a chance for a quick nap until we resumed at 12:30pm.
Each day, the head teacher of the school would patrol the site, meticulously inspecting the build and the plans: a perfectionist in motion.
At 15:30pm we downed tools and set off home. Most evenings a group of us would jump from the bus and walk to the river to cool down and wash off all the mud and cement from a hard day’s work.
An experience like no other
It might sound strange to hear that the trip contributed to my physical wellbeing, given the intensity of the work, but I felt all the better for three weeks of shovelling mud and carrying 50kg cement sacks.
It’s an experience that immerses you into a community like no other.
It’s honest, hard physical work and it’s beautiful to see the look of hope on the faces of people in a community who have endured so much, yet remain resilient and richly content with their life and environment.
My favourite memory from my time on the project was spending an evening with the family of one of the local masons called Bhoj. We shared food and stories, and some ‘delightful’ home-made rice wine.
For my final week on the project, I was privileged to be asked to take the role of team leader to a group of fellow volunteers. It was such a great experience, taking charge of their daily work, safety and motivation, and watching the project develop and our team bond and grow.
While my time in Nuwakot was short, the progress we made was amazing. And thanks to one mammoth 13-hour day pouring concrete for the roof of one of the buildings and working with a group of inspired volunteers, the project was two weeks ahead of schedule when I left in October. In January 2017 the school opened, benefiting an estimated 5,790 students and their families!
Achieving goals takes hard work
Volunteering in Nepal made me realise that in all work, including work at Unilever, you should have a goal but also that it takes patience, hard work and perseverance to achieve it. I learnt to accept that all results are not instant. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was the school in Bidur.
To give your time and energy to a project that is helping people that had so much cruelly taken from them by a natural disaster is a great endeavour. It’s something I wish everyone could experience. I’m proud to work for a company that supports and encourages its employees to undertake projects like this and allows me to manage my priorities at work and my passion for volunteering.
Volunteering with All Hands has helped me realise that time is the most precious and valuable commodity that we all own, and that how we each spend it defines who we really are.
*All Hands is an international non-profit organisation that works with communities affected by natural disasters to provide immediate relief, refuge and long-term help and hope. The charity immerses itself in a local community, employing and working with survivors and skilled masons/carpenters. To be a volunteer is free and open to anyone, of any age, background, and ability/experience and for any length of time. In return for your hard work the organisation provides a bed and three meals a day. Visit www.hands.org to find out more.