Yan: One of the greatest gifts in life is to give

“I personally think that everyone should volunteer at least once in their lifetime.” Read the experience of our volunteer Yan, who has led many groups of international volunteers in Wales over the years.

Yan Ling came to the UK from Malaysia and has led many groups of international volunteers in Wales over the years. She has inspired us with her passion for volunteering. Most recently she has led a group of St John Wales Cymru volunteers on a project in rural Japan!


“This year I was leading a group of youths from St. John Wales to Sapporo, Japan to participate in an environmental project at a nature school in a village called Kuromatsunai. We did a lot of outdoor work which includes planting herbs, weeding & gardening, sawing & varnishing wood logs, replanting plants into different soil grounds, making garden fence & footpaths, digging holes for poles and trimming blueberry bushes. We also engaged a lot with the local community by participating in various activities including their sports days, after school activities, as well as help prepare for the children’s summer camp at the nature school. We also had the opportunity to hike up Mount Kuromatsunai with the young children just before we left. I enjoyed leading this project immensely as I feel we had a great balance of helping the nature school but yet managed to spend adequate time communicating and getting to know the local community as well as leaning how to embrace their culture.

Pushing myself to the limit
Managing the expectations of the volunteers (ensuring that they get the most out of their volunteering experience) is quite challenging for me. Most volunteers come from different parts of the world, and coming to volunteer in a foreign country is as much as a culture shock to them as it is to me. My team and I normally find it challenging to ensure that they feel comfortable, and at the same time help them gain new experiences through a particular volunteering project.

I surprised myself by the capability of pushing myself through various limits; both physically and mentally. When I led my very first project back in 2009, I didn’t realized how much I could do to lead a project. There are times I did doubt if I could do it. But with ample support from UNA Exchange, my fellow team leaders and the host, I had, possibly, the best year of my life.

My experience was life-changing
My volunteering experience was life changing for me. I’ve learned to be humble, open to new experiences and willingness to try new things.
I started to have much more appreciation towards nature and the little things in life. I’ve also learned to enjoy learning different languages, trying new foods and embracing different cultures without being to quick to judge. I learn many skills that I don’t normally learn on normal days, which means I have to get out of my comfort zone to pursue it. I’ve also learned how to work together in a group and live with others. All these might have seemed overwhelming at first, but I enjoyed my volunteering time tremendously.

I personally think that everyone should volunteer at least once in their lifetime to experience what it is life to give, and not expecting anything monetary or materialistic in return. For me being a volunteer means living minimally and giving wholeheartedly.

One of the greatest gifts in life is to give; and having people to reap the seeds of what you sow can be immensely rewarding. We grow up in an era of such fast paced technology that we often forget how enjoyable it can be working alongside people in the local communities and spending time engaging in various activities with them that doesn’t require a smart phone or computer. After all, the best things in life are free, if only we know where to look.” 





  • Check out which training opportunities we have for you and gain valuable skills for your future life and career! Choose from a range of courses such as leadership, international youth work, intercultural understanding, and much more.

  • Would you like to become a leader of one of our International Volunteer Projects in Wales this summer? We are always on the lookout for project leaders and we offer special training to develop leadership skills. Find out more about our training opportunities and get in touch with us to discuss your possibilities: [email protected]