A Journey of Compassion: Volunteering Across Continents

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Volunteering is a transformative experience that opens our eyes to the world’s challenges and provides an opportunity to make a positive impact.

For Anuschka Von der Heyden, Head of Sustainability at Von der Heyden Group the journey began at the age of 18 with a life-changing decision to volunteer in South Africa at the Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. Little did she know that this would mark the beginning of a series of meaningful adventures across the globe, dedicated to the welfare of animals.

Dorothée Schmitz, General Manager at IBB Hotel Ingelheim has loved animals since childhood and has been active in animal protection at home in Germany and abroad for over 30 years.

Erica Catalá, Head of Marketing at IBB Hotel Collection also joined a voluntary mission to Tanzania this year, to assist a team of doctors to offer dental care to the residents of Arusha. Humbled by this visit, she understood how helping others offers a completely different perspective in life and it is the most satisfying experience you will ever have.

In this blog, we explore the awe-inspiring experiences of volunteering, along with the motivations that drive this commitment to make a difference.

A rewarding and challenging experience

The journey for Anuschka started in South Africa, where she spent two months at Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. Working with a diverse range of safari animals, from lions and cheetahs to rhinos and giraffes, the experience was both rewarding and challenging. The heartwarming highlight included raising lion cubs and a baby rhino who had lost their mothers to poaching—an issue plaguing South Africa. Anuschka witnessed these vulnerable creatures grow and gain confidence each day, leaving an indelible mark on their heart. Notably, a rescued leopard, unable to return to the wild, found solace and companionship at the center, illustrating the profound impact of wildlife rehabilitation.

The journey for Anuschka continued to Costa Rica, where she sought solace and adventure on a deserted island with no electricity or running water. This time, the focus shifted to sea turtle conservation, a cause close to her heart. Nightly beach patrols involved spotting nesting sea turtles, collecting eggs, and safeguarding them in a hatchery.

“The emotional high point was witnessing a leatherback turtle, the largest of its kind, laying eggs—a rare and poignant moment. Turtles, with their symbolism of patience, perseverance, and bravery, became a source of inspiration for me.”

With an unwavering commitment to volunteer every year, Anuschka’s journey continued to Thailand. The project involved working at an elephant sanctuary, reflecting her eagerness to learn and contribute to the welfare of another incredible species. Thailand’s rich cultural history with elephants provides a unique backdrop for this latest endeavor.

A dream shared among siblings

The journey for Erica began with a dream shared among siblings—of experiencing a volunteer period together with a dental care NGO. Last summer, this dream materialized as the team signed an agreement with Arusha to bring dental care services to underserved communities. The rural areas faced unique challenges, with limited access to basic resources, including nutrition, electricity, and other utilities. In these conditions, oral health often becomes a secondary concern, leading to further diseases. The team’s goal was clear: to offer dental services, from extractions to root canals and fillings, using their own equipment and electricity.

Over 15 days, a dedicated team of 10 dentists and assistants from various specialties worked tirelessly to reach as many villagers as possible. The result was impressive—887 patients received 1986 treatments, a testament to the team’s commitment and the impact that focused volunteer efforts can have on communities in need.

Protecting animals from an early age

Dorothee has loved animals since childhood and has been active in animal protection at home in Germany and abroad for over 30 years. Most recently she has been part of the Grund zur Hoffnung team, finding homes for and bettering the lives of dogs from Bulgaria. She lives by the motto ”if you don’t love animals, you don’t love people either”.

Motivations Behind Volunteering

The volunteers’ motivation to volunteer stems from a deep belief in acts of kindness and giving back to those less fortunate, whether human or animal. They emphasize the potential for positive global change if everyone dedicated just 1-2 weeks a year to volunteer work. Anuschka’s and Dorothee’s affinity for animal-based projects is rooted in a lifelong love for animals, considering them pure and innocent beings deserving of a peaceful existence on our planet. Erica also believes that volunteering offers more than it takes.

“Gratitude for living in developed countries with abundant resources and services fuels the desire to contribute to making the world a better place. The understanding that everyone’s contribution no matter how small, can collectively lead to positive change drives my commitment to volunteer,” said Erica Catalá.

Personal Growth and Fulfillment

Anuschka describes the experiences as a source of incredible self-fulfillment and fun. Beyond the joy of spending time with animals 24/7, meaningful connections with like-minded individuals have enriched her journey. The ultimate goal is not only to give back but also to gather knowledge to pave the way for running her own conservation projects in the future.

Experiences and Rewards

For Erica, the experience of providing accessible health services to those in need has been nothing short of incredible and rewarding. Beyond the dental treatments, she also acknowledges the transformative power of such experiences, bringing together people from different cultures and perspectives. These encounters can reshape one’s understanding of life and deepen empathy.

Continued Commitment

While volunteering in Arusha marked the first experience abroad for Erica, it surpassed all expectations. The impact on the community and the personal fulfillment derived from the experience have solidified her commitment to continue volunteering. As she had previously volunteered as a mentor for school kids in Mexico, the decision to remain engaged in volunteering at least once a year for different causes and projects is resolute.

Volunteering is a powerful force for positive change, as demonstrated by these inspiring  journeys. The commitment to protecting and rehabilitating wildlife, giving access to personal care to the less fortunate and protecting animals reflects a broader call for global compassion and responsibility. By sharing these experiences, the hope is to inspire others to embark on their own volunteering journeys, contributing to a world where kindness and care extend to all living beings.

We admire our colleagues so much, and in fact IBB Hotel Collection has implemented a Volunteer policy which gives all staff an additional three vacation days when going on voluntary missions! We hope that all of our staff take advantage of this initiative and commit to volunteer and make the world a better place.