Finding deeper meaning

On International Women’s Day, an Australian student explains how her
heart and soul have been filled with love while volunteering in Thailand.

 WALKING WITH THE EXCLUDED 

By Sophie Brown, overseas volunteer with The Cardoner Network

Sophie’s last day in the company of Year Six students whom she taught for six weeks.

The theme for International Women’s Day 2024 is “inspire inclusion” and the aim is to understand and value the inclusion of women to increase a sense of belonging, relevance and empowerment.

Throughout my final year of high school, I sought an opportunity that would allow me to explore, travel and simultaneously serve others. I was drawn to the opportunity with The Cardoner Network, which has led me to Chiang Rai, Thailand, to volunteer at Xavier Learning Community (XLC) for six months.

I was initially daunted by the fact that for the first eight weeks of my journey, I would be the only female volunteer, however, I was so graciously welcomed into the community with open arms and love that my initial concerns quickly vanished. Within this community, there exists a profound sense of sisterhood among the women. Their warmth, kindness and unwavering inclusivity have nurtured deep bonds, making me feel embraced and valued as a member of XLC.

My experience so far has undeniably had a positive impact on me, enriching my perspective on life and providing a sense of home despite being far away from Australia. Through the forging of meaningful connections, my heart and soul have been filled with love, contributing to a profoundly positive experience.

Sophie with fellow volunteers on the day of the royal visit (left to right): Luke Henry, Nicholas Jaksa, and Daniel Belperio.

Additionally, this journey has allowed me to reflect on the resilience and strength inherent in embracing independence. On 27 February, I was honoured with the opportunity to participate in a presentation crafted for Her Royal Highness, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand.

Being asked to read during such a prestigious event was an exciting and unforgettable experience for me. It was a moment filled with pride and gratitude, as I had the privilege to contribute to an occasion of such great significance. This opportunity not only highlighted the significance of the work being carried out at XLC but also provided me with valuable insights into the dedication and commitment of the students towards fostering personal growth and progress in their lives. This dedication was evident throughout the presentation, which demonstrated the transformative power of education and community engagement.

My role on that significant day will undoubtedly be a lasting memory as I am very grateful and proud to have been selected for a role in this event.

In Chiang Rai, because I’ve immersed myself in new opportunities and embraced a different culture, I’ve experienced the rewards of self-discovery and gained a profound appreciation for the life and privileges I enjoy back home in Australia. This journey has allowed me to grow personally and broaden my perspective in ways I never imagined possible.

It is for this reason that I would recommend this experience of self-discovery and service, particularly to those who are seeking to be pushed out of their comfort zone. Volunteering at XLC has not only challenged me to adapt and thrive in unfamiliar environments, but has provided me with resilience, long-lasting relationships, love and cultural understanding.

Sophie with her friend Far on the day Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand came to visit.

Banner image: International Women’s Day 2024 poster by Adrian Vidal, Canva.

Learn how The Cardoner Network provides opportunities for young adults to serve and gain life-enhancing experiences