Meet Sheilagh Henry!

volksgiving campaign

Today, HOLR is chatting with Sheilagh Henry, from Brechin, Ontario, to discuss her experience being part of the annual Volkswagen Volksgiving and how it is celebrating owners who have a special story to tell.

Keep reading to learn all about Sheilagh and her story.

What has being part of this year’s Volksgiving meant to you?

Being part of Volksgiving has been an incredible experience. The last couple of years have been difficult for everyone – and I’m certainly no exception. During that time, I was working hard to beat breast cancer and underwent 6 months of treatment outside of Canada. Because of COVID restrictions, my friends and family were unable to be physically with me, so I faced the hardest times on my own. Back at home, other family members were battling cancer and illness, also in isolation. At the same time, I was part of a United Nations’ COVID response team that demanded a very intense work schedule. After completing my treatment and returning home, I was completely drained and feeling beaten down, both physically and mentally. Being part of Volksgiving reignited my spark and reminded me of how much love I have in my life. So many friends and family came to my finish line to celebrate with me; a testament to the fact that I was never alone or without support. The team at VW Canada reminded me that I am appreciated for who I am and what I do, which means the world to me. Volksgiving also motivated me more than ever to get ready for my next VW adventure from Alaska to Argentina – with the whole VW family behind me, encouraging me every step of the way.

What is the most rewarding thing about your humanitarian work? 

My work has been so rewarding over the years. Little things remind me of the sacrifices I have made to do what I do, but the benefits outweigh those costs. The biggest reward has come from the bonds and friendships I’ve made around the world. Some of the most incredible people I have met were in countries like Brazil, Angola, Afghanistan, Sudan, and Ethiopia. Seeing and understanding their resilience and determination has made me stronger. I’m undeniably richer to have crossed the paths of so many people from various backgrounds who have faced incredible hardships yet are willing to share their stories, experiences, and joys. I’ve been blessed to play even a small part in so many lives and to stitch my own life tapestry based on those encounters. If I can make a small difference in any of those lives, all the better!

What was the best part about your road trip from Afghanistan to Ireland? 

The answer to that is an easy one. The best part about the road trip from Afghanistan to Ireland was the opportunity to understand and experience the joy of driving a VW classic across a vast distance and the consequential intersection with the VW community. It’s difficult to explain the global VW community without experiencing it. It’s so special and unique. It’s not just a common attachment for a type of vehicle, but rather an enigmatic connection with friends you have never met. It is a shared passion that is understood without saying a word. It’s trusting that you have a group of people you can rely on, without knowing where or who they are. It’s knowing that there is a community of people that is there for you when you need them, and even when you don’t. 

I remember breaking down in Turkey, which was the first country on the itinerary where VWs are really known and loved. The mechanic who helped out provided me with the contact details of a VW club in the next district and told me to contact them when we arrived. When I called, the contact had already been tipped off that we were coming and had gathered some of the club members to meet us. They directed us to a city park where we could camp and joined us VW-convoy-style en route. Before we had parked, they were helping to set up a camp, barbeque, fire, and picnic area that was equipped with blankets, car seats, and plenty to eat and drink. We were wined, dined, and entertained and when the night was over, they packed up and disappeared as quickly as they came – leaving us with lovely memories and the contact details of the VW club in the next district. Being part of such a community and knowing you are never really alone provides you with a sense of security in the midst of the unknown. There is nothing else quite like it and I’m honoured to be a part of it. 

Humanitarian work is not something that everyone can or has access to do. What would you say to someone who’s interested in volunteering and just starting out? 

I have spoken to several people interested in getting involved in humanitarian work and I always tell them the same thing. Do it if you can. Being a part of something bigger than you will change you as a person and change your outlook on the world. However, be prepared to question everything you never questioned in your life – inequity, injustice, politics and power, the state of the world, and the state of yourself. Much of what you question will go unanswered and much can’t be changed, but you will still find meaning in what you do. It’s not easy to enter into humanitarian work without a required skillset. I recommend people research the types of roles that exist in the humanitarian community – from water or medical experts to logistics, communications, human rights, or demining – and decide what they are good at or want to learn. Humanitarian practitioners need to be able to offer a skill or service that can be used to play a part in a larger team. Contact a humanitarian organization that you respect and ask them what they look for or need in their operations and work toward gaining skills and experiences in those areas. One of the best places to start is with your local Red Cross. 90% of the Red Cross workforce are volunteers. I volunteered with the Red Cross for years before working overseas. It’s good to remember that humanitarian work isn’t only a response to an international war or disaster. It can start at home with something as simple as volunteering at a food bank or shelter and giving of ourselves to anyone who is struggling due to circumstances that are often beyond their control. We can all be humanitarians and a little more human every day. 

Who inspires you most? 

My mom. She’s my mentor, companion, and inspiration. She was a single mom raising two young kids in the 70s while working full time during the day and attending night school to get her degree. No matter how exhausted she must have been, she always found time to shove us in the back of the car to experience travel and the world around us, help others, and volunteer her time at food banks and community theatre. She always tried to be a better person and to leave a legacy. She wanted to be a helicopter pilot, but in her day, gaining acceptance into such a profession wasn’t easy for a woman. She has always supported me to be all I can be. When, at the age of 16, I decided to start a camp for kids who are blind, deaf, or differently-abled, she said “what can I do to help?”. When I decided to travel the world at 17, she helped me pack my bags and offered words of wisdom and support. I would never be the person I am today without her. As I worked my way around the globe, my mother has done her best to visit me, from Ethiopia to Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, she worked in a local orphanage and offered English lessons to my staff. On weekends, we hiked into the mountains and traveled to sites of historical significance. My mother continues to inspire me to this day. As she settles into her 80th year, we just completed Route 66 in my VW Syncro and are planning our trip to Machu Picchu later this year, which has always been on her bucket list. My mother has taught me that life is to be lived and that there is always someone more in need than myself, so lend a hand whenever you are able. I continue to strive to make her proud.

If you’re interested in learning more about the owners being celebrated as part of this year’s Volksgiving campaign, be sure to check out the brand’s website for more information.

Published by HOLR Magazine.