How Volunteering Inspired My Debut Novel
by Ed Renshaw
This December marks ten years since I volunteered with CCS in Tanzania, an incredible experience that altered the course of my life and opened up a whole new world. Prior to Tanzania I was lucky enough to have travelled in Africa and Asia, but I hadn’t experienced anything nearly as intimate and powerful as the time I spent living and working in the local community.
Inspired by my time with fellow volunteers, the CCS staff, and the adults and children at the HIV centre where I helped out, the year after my CCS program I undertook a further volunteer project in Uganda, living and working with Congolese and Rwandan refugees.
Both experiences demonstrated the power of volunteering as a force for good. I firmly believe, if done professionally, volunteering can play an important role in development and cross-cultural understanding. In my opinion, people around the world have more in common than many believe, and it’s only through interaction that we can knock down the barriers of prejudice and misconception.
After a final volunteer stint working on a public health project in Nepal, I returned home and struggled to adapt to my former life, my rigid plans and goals. I am sure many other volunteers have experienced the same. Faced with a new purpose in life, I switched careers from business to working in human rights, lobbying for children’s rights around the world.
Writing has given me the opportunity to re-live those amazing opportunities all over again. I turned to writing as a way of processing my experiences, initially using my journals from the trips to compose short travel-writing pieces. But as time passed, I knew there were deeper issues I wanted to explore. I later turned my attention to fiction as a way to explore the concept of change.
Four years later, Under the Acacia Tree was born. Set in rural Uganda, the novel tells the story of an English medical student and a young teacher from Nepal leaving their sheltered home environments to step into an unfamiliar world.
If anything, I hope this book encourages others to set out and volunteer. The people I’ve met and friends made over the years have been priceless. I’d urge anyone who is considering volunteering to grab the opportunity with both hands!
For the next month, Under the Acacia Tree e-books are free for the CCS network! To receive your free copy, click on the following link. Click “Buy,” enter the voucher code 4P09Z4BI3K, and select the format you want. I’d be really grateful if you could leave a short book review on amazon.co.uk (not .com). You can learn more about the book or contact me at www.edrenshaw.com