03/11/2013 12:08 EDT | Updated 05/11/2013 05:12 EDT

Volunteering Your Heart Will Open Your Eyes

Before working for an NGO, I defined job satisfaction like this: using your skills in the best way possible in a well-paid environment. Having interned at World Vision for the past six months, my priorities have changed. Doing work that makes it possible for someone on the other side of the world to live a happy, healthy life is far more meaningful than a high salary could ever be.

Six months ago, I was a recent journalism graduate, tediously and unhappily sweating away in a filthy warehouse. Like so many other recent graduates, I had been stressing hard about starting to pay back student loans while trying to find a position worthy of my freshly pressed skills. After a long inner battle, I'd had to swallow my pride and take this warehouse survival job.

I began to feel hopeless about escaping for something better. That's when I heard about an opportunity to volunteer at World Vision. With my employer's blessing, I headed to Mississauga one day a week to learn the ropes in the Public Relations department.

Eyes and ears opened

Being at World Vision opened my eyes to world issues to which I'd previously been oblivious. And it made me examine my own life: what I've been valuing, my rights, and how incredibly lucky I am to live in Canada.

I began paying attention to news stations when they described the poverty and conflict in other countries. I started to realize that it really wasn't as far away as I'd imagined. Deep sadness began to overwhelm me when hearing about these tribulations that, a year ago, didn't affect me nearly so deeply.

As a little girl, I would cry walking down the streets of Toronto because I didn't know how to help the homeless people. I began to feel like that little girl again, heartsick over people's hardships. But there was one major difference: no longer did I feel that all was hopeless.

What it means to be selfless

Looking around me at World Vision, I felt compelled to learn more about the people working there, and the other Canadians who serve the poor by volunteering.

I quickly realized how crucial volunteers are to World Vision's work. The difference they make to children and families who are struggling to survive is immeasurable. I discovered tales that touched my heart and changed my definition of what it means to be selfless.

World Vision supporter Christy Zacharias is one example. She had felt the call to volunteer with World Vision since being emotionally overwhelmed by their TV commercials growing up. Now an adult, Christy has sponsored seven children through over the years. Her monthly donations have helped the children's communities to provide them with food, clean water, education and healthcare. And Christy's heartfelt letters helped these girls and boys realize just how much they matter to someone in Canada.

The power of love

One of Christy's sponsored children, Deline, lived in a small community in Haiti. She wrote a letter to Christy and her husband, explaining that her baby brother had taken seriously ill. She did not want him to die.

Panicking, Christy phoned World Vision asking what to do. She was able to send an extra donation - very small by Canadian standards - so World Vision staff could purchase the medicine and other items the family needed to restore the little boy to health.

Months later, Deline's father wrote Christy a letter expressing how absolutely grateful both parents were.

"As a parent, to know in my heart that I made a tangible difference in the life of another parent - something that took a huge weight off him - just felt so good," shared Christy.

One giant step further

I've been amazed to talk with volunteers who have taken their desire to help one giant step further through World Vision's Destination Life Change trips. These are opportunities to volunteer in a short-term project with life-changing potential. Christy and her husband made one of these trips, and are telling the tale on their home turf during World Vision's current campaign to raise sponsorships in Saskatchewan.

"Being a mom made me see how fragile life is and made me realize that I wanted to make life better for other moms like me," said says. "I thought: 'I want to put my money where my mouth is. I've seen for myself the work on the ground, the innovative projects that World Vision has in place to help combat poverty overseas,'" she said.

New meaning in life

Another story I'll never forget was that of a man named Tom E. who lost his daughter tragically in a car accident in Mexico. Shortly afterward, Tom and his wife noticed a World Vision table and decided they wanted to do something lasting, in remembrance of their daughter. Tom ended up sponsoring a young boy named Carlos in Nicaragua.

Tom had the opportunity to meet Carlos on two different Destination Life Change trips and was wonderfully surprised to see how well he, his mother and sister had been doing. He is benefitting from many of the things most families in Canada take for granted, including school.

"I left some money for him and his family and he ended up buying a bed, pillow and blanket with it. He sent a picture a few months later saying it was the first time he had a real bed and for me, it was such a nice experience."

I can only imagine how amazing it feels to see your contribution come to life and learn how it's improving the life of someone who has so little.

My next chapter

When my internship in World Vision's PR department ended, it would have been easy to resume my search for that high-paying job in journalism. But I didn't want to go. Getting a taste of the joy that comes with serving the poor had changed me forever.

I applied for a second internship at World Vision, this time with a new team reaching out to students and youth. I'm so excited to continue my journey here, and hear more of these inspiring tales. I hope to be able to influence young people to value something deeper than what the world is telling us is important. I want to go out and find these advocates for change, the future Toms and Christies, and show them that they can help change the world.

You can visit World Vision's websiteto learn more about:

• sponsoring a child

• Destination Life Change trips

• other opportunities to volunteer