Last updated on March 27th, 2019 at 07:42 pm

The only way to truly know another culture is to get off the tourist bus and be a part of the lives of the citizens. I’ve volunteered abroad in several countries, including the Canary Islands and Thailand, but one of the trips that made a big impact on me was volunteering at the Windsor Home orphanage in Jamaica. Here are some of my reflections from that visit and ways that “voluntouring” will give you a new outlook on life:

You experience the culture firsthand

I learned firsthand from the girls at Windsor Home orphanage about the heart and soul of Jamaica. My taxi broke down on the way to a horseback riding excursion, and I discovered these disempowered girls at the gate asking for help, curious about this American tourist they had opened the gates for. I fell in love with their warm hearts, reggae music and enjoyment of the simple pleasures, so I stayed for a week at their school.

I learned that Jamaica is a country with rich resources: not only bauxite for mining, but the best coffee in the world from the Blue Mountains; turmeric, the spice for the best curry, sugar cane and gorgeous beaches. Yet, the rich culture suffers poverty beyond my American imagination. These girls’ only choices were prostitution or a nunnery. They had no family support and no education to support themselves. They ranged in ages from 12-18, and men were lined up outside the gate, luring them into prostitution. They were held in a prison in paradise.

It places your challenges in perspective

I was on a solo trip to Jamaica, thinking through some recent big changes in my life. Instead of feeling that I was a victim of my circumstances, I realized that my life choices had placed me in a gilded cage, a subservient powerless role. I held the key; I made myself a prisoner and learned that only I could set myself free. However, these girls were truly prisoners; they did not have my options.

We can be the change we want to see

Sometimes watching the news can bring us down. But I found, in my small way, I could be the change I wanted to see in the world. By working at the Windsor Home, teaching English, reading and math, I was able to help people find their economic freedom. I sponsored one girl for only $300 by starting a chicken farm. I was also able to bring a bit of heaven to Earth by sharing my horseback riding experience with them on the gorgeous beaches of Jamaica. None of the girls had ever ridden a horse and many had never been to the beaches that tourists experience, so I brought them on this adventure with me.

It’s a peak and a rush

I never feel more alive than helping others. The girls gave me more than I ever gave them. They taught me the joy of experiencing small pleasures: cooking, dancing, Jamaican sunsets, reggae music and the “don’t worry” philosophy of the reggae culture. I’ve known women in America with many more material possessions and yet none as grateful and happy as the Jamaican girls at Windsor Home.

It’ll redefine where you place value

I came home with a whole new perspective on what it takes to be happy. I had lived the American dream with the “perfect” marriage, multiple homes, multiple cars and the country club life. I knew intrinsically that this wasn’t for me. I secretly started a life of my own through an affair. But ultimately, this mistake set me free—I traded a material life for an experiential life and a secretive life for a sensual life.

It will boost your desire to “give back” at home

This experience gave me confidence that I can contribute and make a difference in my own backyard too. I came home, published my story in Unbridled: A Memoir, and started the Mother Lover Fighter Sage foundation to help women live out all their dimensions in colourful, positive ways. Jamaica not only gave me “unbridled freedom,” it taught me that I can make a difference in the world. You can, too.

Barbara McNally is the author of Unbridled, a memoir chronicling her journey from stifled, predictable housewife to independent and joyous living. A mother and philanthropist living in San Diego, California, Barbara is also the founder of Mother Lover Fighter Sage, a foundation dedicated to providing women with opportunities for growth and self-discovery. To learn more, visit her website at: UnbridledFreedom.com. You can follow Barbara at @liveunbridled or at facebook.com/liveunbridled.
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