An Open Letter To My Future Self By Angela Zhao

The Big Lift (TBL) is a student-run volunteering organisation which works with regional Australian communities. It functions on the belief of “paying it forward” and the idea that many hands can work together to make work small. There is a general consensus that The Big Lift is just a nine day volunteering road trip like a school camp like many of my peers, I joined The Big Lift to give back to community, make a difference and expecting to make a friend or two by the end. This happened and more. Instead I was pleasantly surprised by the presence of comradery between participants through the countless shared experiences and memories throughout this trip.

To the future TBL 2016 group,

The Big Lift 2016 has passed quickly and already we have to separate. This week has been full of many great emotions, stories and moments we’ll never forget. From braving the cold, to early mornings and seeing each other’s sleepy faces we really have gotten to understand each other during our highest and our lowest.

Nothing beats the feeling of knowing that we had helped a town work on projects that they never had the opportunity to do before, bought joy to their day and bonded their community closer together.  The possibility of knowing that our actions will leave an impact in years to come may inspire us to visit again; to see the new completed look of Woodstock’s Lawn Bowling Hall, the veggie patch at Gundaroo Public School, test the benches we helped make at Bombala, catch up for a chat with locals at Orbost or how check how tall the trees we planted at Stratford have grown. Maybe some of us will chose to continue The Big Lift’s motto of “paying it forward” and get involved with other causes.

Can you believe we hardly knew each other before the trip? Starting off “well-rested” at 7:30am on Saturday morning at university, not knowing anyone apart from some people you had briefly met before on pre-departure night. Whose names you had either forgotten or your un-caffeinated brain could not recall. But see how far you’ve come going from strangers to being even able to call them your family. Working together as a team you pulled staples out of walls, cleaned and painted halls, transported timber at the Men’s Shed and of course mulching- so much mulching.  And not to forget sleeping together in halls, churches and even a football club!

And how about towns we visited? Woodstock, though not as lively as its older sister who shares the same name, has a killer of a country fair. Gundaroo with their heritage-listed monuments.  Bombala with their strong ties to the timber industry and popular Men’s Shed. Bohemian Stratford, famous for their Shakespeare on the River Festival, strong support for the arts and AFL. Not to forget the wide range of people we met possible award nominations for the best beard, the future Masterchefs and even a past UTS Alumni. Many residents had originally lived in large cities like Sydney and moved for a tree change. This opportunity to volunteer at these town enabled us to discover the background city and country folk of Australia are not opposites. However the difference lies in our sense of community, possibly due to the rush and crowdedness of the city life we don’t interact with each other as much. Many of us wouldn’t have such a strong relationship with everyone who lived on our street let alone the town as these locals can.

What we did do was we formed our own sense of community. We felt supported as the Lifters always there to help a member in need whether it’ll be food, toiletries, money or just someone to talk to. Bromances and bus crushes were present some bravely going the extra mile writing love notes and showcasing their love at our talent quest.  Heartstrings were pulled- thanks to alpacas and a lamb-, ships set sail and some relationships possibly kindled.

Do you still check out our photos and recall those moments in your spare time? Find the countless selfies from Woodstock to Melbourne and anywhere in between tucked away on your Instagram. Come across the videos of your team mates posing with statues, twerking in 7/11 or performing various other silly tasks. Break out into dance to “Can’t Stop this feeling” or look forward to the ‘good morning’ song at 6:30am.

Will we be glad we went on this trip? Reflecting back on the trip many would be more than happy to relive the same trip with same people, over and over again. A couple of us will be thanking our friends for the recommendation and getting others to sign up. The skills we have learnt from foundations in tree-planting, mulching and lawn bowls will be useful tools in developing our personal and professional identities or possible conversation starters as we depart university. But more than that the people we have met and formed friendships with have helped us see the positive change TBL has bought with it. It sews a hope that we harness a power to influence the world we live in however it is whether we take action upon it or not that makes the difference.

See you soon,

Your current selves