Returned overseas volunteer, Laura Kennedy, shares her experience of Comhlámh’s ‘Coming Home’ weekend – the talking, laughing, strategising and dreaming.
I’ve tried to put into words the experience of leaving Nicaragua on many occasions since returning home, but I could never find the right words to describe my time living in the developing world. I have had the really good fortune since coming home to get involved with Comhlámh, an organisation that works with volunteers before, during and after their time abroad and with people interested in social justice and development education.
I’ve just come back from attending their “Coming Home” weekend, a safe place in which returned volunteers can debrief, share stories and reflect on their time abroad. It also provides the opportunity to think about how to use many of these experiences and skills once back in Ireland. It was a chance to share stories with other people who could relate to and understand the highs and lows of life in a developing country and the intensity of emotions and relationships with both the local people and with other volunteers.
We all worked in different countries, for varying lengths of time and in many different capacities but we continuously nodded and smiled as each of us related a memory. While it may have occurred in a very different place and time, it still resonated with our own personal experiences of our time overseas. It was an opportunity for us to truly return to our placement and be back in that moment, living through the good, the bad and the ugly, but in a very safe and supported environment.
Following a guided reflection, we were invited to write what that experience had evoked for us and for the first time since my return, the words just flowed naturally from my pen and I found the inspiration that came so readily to hand in Nicaragua visit me once again here, in this stunning location looking out across Dublin Bay, in the Stella Maris Retreat Centre in Howth.
When we wound up after two long days of talking, laughing, reminiscing, strategising, discovering and dreaming I realised that I had been smiling all weekend. It is so important for anyone who has worked in the developing world, be it for two weeks or two years, to take the time to stand back and recognise all that has passed, how it has reshaped our thoughts and our outlook.
We became aware that everyone faces similar challenges on returning home, but that that too will pass and that once you are ready to take the next step, the support and the experience will be there to guide you on your way. I feel incredibly grateful and blessed to have had this opportunity and for the first time since leaving I now truly feel like I’m coming home.
Our Coming Home Book provides a comprehensive guide any issues you may have on return home and directs you towards other useful organisations.