June 28, 2016

Why Young British Midwife Left Home to Volunteer Abroad

, communication director, Trans-European Division

Meet Lara Žestić. She has a passion for volunteering.

You might have expected Žestić, as a recent midwifery graduate, to settle down, establish her career, and reap the rewards of her hard work. Instead, she headed to Thailand, volunteering at the Bamboo School, an orphanage and clinic for 61 children near the Myanmar border.

“It’s kind of why I did midwifery in the first place,” Žestić said.

She said she wanted a useful skill that she could use in the developing world, particularly in Asia.

While that skill was somewhat put into practice in Thailand, she learned more about compassion and caring, and living the simple life. Now back in Europe, she has been left wondering why people complain so much when the people she has worked with live contented and positive lives with so much less.

“I just have an attraction for a simpler lifestyle,” she said. “I just love their culture.”

Maybe that is why after six months in Thailand she is about to volunteer again. After a short time vacationing with family and a chance to lead worship at the Newbold church near London, she is headed to the Oinofyta refugee camp in Greece, just an hour's drive north of Athens. With two babies born there in the past 10 days, she believes her skills can be put to good use.

Lara Žestić posing with friends at the Bamboo School. (TED)

Žestić has left part of her heart in Thailand, but she is just one of many thousands of Adventist volunteers who donate time — sometimes a few weeks, sometimes a year or two — to make a difference in another part of the world.

Karen Plaatjes knows this well. She is coordinator of the Adventist Volunteer service for the Trans-European Division. She also met her husband, a South African, while she was volunteering as an English teacher in South Korea.

“I have never met a single person who regretted volunteering,” Plaatjes said.

Over the years she has interacted with many hundreds of volunteers. She said she has seen Europe reap benefits from the volunteer work of people from Adventist universities and churches in the United States, South America, and Australia. For their part, European young people often like to travel and serve in Asia, Africa, or simply other parts of Europe.

“It’s not always easy, but it is always rewarding,” Plaatjes said.

Volunteerism is not just an international activity. For Žestić it is something that started in her local church and was strongly encouraged by her parents and other mentors.

“Lara would always find time to help others, helping out at youth events, using her camera skills to good effect, and being one of those reliable youth who actually gets the task done,” said Kirsten Øster-Lundqvist, a personal friend and former associate pastor at Žestić‘s home church, Newbold. “As her musical skills and confidence grew, you could also frequently find her leading worship during Newbold’s contemporary service.”

Žestić puts her spirit of volunteerism very much down to her Christian faith and commitment. She also recommends it as a life-changing experience. When friends express an interest in volunteering but say they need to sort out their lives first, she says she has one response: “Don't! You always think there is something more that you can do. … Just forget about it. Just go for it! There is no better time than right now!”

An interview with Lara Žestić about why she chooses to volunteer abroad rather than settle down with a steady job and career progression in Britain’s National Health Service. (TED)

Church members from the Trans-European Division who are interested in volunteering can visit the Adventist Volunteer Facebook page and website. Other church members can view volunteer openings at the website of the General Conference Adventist Volunteer Center.