Lauren loves helping
LAUREN SIMMONS is about helping others and, the 23-year-old Barbadian will be in Cambodia from today volunteering to help the locals wherever her skill set is needed. The past student of St Ursuline has a Bachelor of Creative Arts (dance and theatre) from The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.
“I want to work in the field of production management. I am actually enrolled at Leeds University in Britain, to do my Master’s in international event management.”
And that is where her story took an interesting turn.
After deferring her studies a couple times, she decided to take the plunge. She is staying with her older brother who is living and working in Leeds, but going back and forth to London and Barbados.
“While in England things weren’t working out how I expected them to . . ., so I started to get upset. My mum said, ‘Why you don’t volunteer?’.
“I had volunteered numerous times in Barbados which started while I was going to St Ursuline. When I went to London to get a job it was really hard and Brexit was making it hard.”
Lauren went online to see if she could find a local shelter or organisation. When she typed in “volunteer” a VSO page popped up. VSO stands for Voluntary Service Overseas.
“The page was speaking to me. It said I could make a difference. I could have life experiences while helping people.
“I could influence and change the lives of other young people around the world.”
Lauren signed up and she got a call the next day.
Everything was moving quickly.
How it works is that VSO sends volunteer workers and professionals into the areas that ask for help, working with the locals to build infrastructures, teach them about agriculture and academics.
“You have to go through an assessment, and then you are placed to a specific country based on your responses. I had wanted to go for Nepal and it was a health programme, so Cambodia was the better placement since I wanted to do education.”
Lauren was asked to raise $2 400 as a requirement of the programme.
“That figure was just ten per cent of the total cost of the three-month trip to the south-east Asian territory, as the VSO had already covered the insurance, accommodation and would provide food.
“The reason they asked me to raise ten per cent too is because they don’t want to send people who are not committed to the cause; so this is their way of finding out how willing you are to put yourself out there, but they have paid for everything else,” she said.
Lauren came home to Barbados in December and had until Janaury 26 to raise the funds, which she did through a mini concert and an online fundraising page.
Simmons said she was inspired to travel to Cambodia to help develop its educational system, even though she was scared at first.
“I prayed on it and spoke to my family. I had a clearer sense after that I needed to do this.
Lauren started to do her research on Cambodia.
“They have had a very hard history. When I saw what happened in Cambodia with the civil unrest in the 1970s, their lack of roads, the lack of schools, all the infrastructure that we take for granted . . . . And the fact that we can go to school when we turn four years old, they don’t have that; and it broke my heart,” she said.
“They also have a very young population.”
Lauren is going to the village of Stung Treng. She flies to Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia. She takes a minivan (like a ZR) to another destination. Next mode of transport is a motor drop (as they don’t have proper roads this is how villagers get around) and this will be how she will get around to her different areas.
“I haven’t ridden in a while so it will be fun to see how I do,” Lauren said, chuckling.
She has to get her last set of vaccinations and already has her visa in hand and her training completed.
She will be in Cambodia for three months.
It will be a culture shock, she says.
“I am nervous.
“Here in Barbados I have a TV and a comfortable bed and a bathroom. There we have to sleep on the floor, there is a squat toilet. They sit on the ground to eat. We will be living like them . . . ; not staying in a hotel.”
In Lauren’s team there are 20 people.
“Even though I am nervous I am excited. I want to learn so much while volunteering,” said the avid guitar player.
“I want a different view of the world. It is apparent to me that we all think differently and on a grander scale I want to change people’s lives.”