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Volunteer in Ethiopia with Love Volunteers
Marayca Lopez is from Barcelona, Spain but currently lives and works in New York, USA as a Corrections Analyst and Planner. She enjoys exercising, traveling and getting to know people from other cultures.
Morning: I would wake up at 7.30 for a quick breakfast and would be heading to Strong Hearths Academy to greet and welcome the kids to the School and play and entertain them for approximately 2 hours. At around 10 I would teach "English with an accent" for two-hours with a 20 minutes break in between.
Afternoon: From noon until 2 PM was our lunch break. Since the volunteers' guest house is within walking distance, we would be heading home for lunch. Since I am originally from Spain, I used some of this time to take a short "siesta". At 2 we would go back to School and help another teacher with the arts and crafts class for older kids until approximately 4 pm.
Evening: Mingling with the locals (crowd) to experience first hand their cultural activities and daily life. Participating in some ministries and exploring the city, its many treasures and well-kept secrets.
Highlights: Volunteer experience: the children! just amazing, besides lovely, affectionate, extremely polite and giving. The Strong Hearts Community, for always making us feel welcomed, appreciated, loved and cared for.
Overall experience: the people. Ethiopian's sense of hospitality, values, and old traditions. The old history of the country with years of evolving and changing cultural traditions, its terrific landscape and delicious gastronomy.
Maria, 41, lives in Switzerland. She started traveling when she was 16 and has seen a lot of the world. Maria lived and worked one year in Africa and later worked abroad several times in different countries, but always organized it herself. This volunteer trip was the first time she used an organization, Love volunteers. She does a lot of different things in life, right now Maria has several jobs in the social/cultural section.
When: March - April 2011
Morning: Normally, I got up around 7:30, then had my breakfast in the guesthouse of the organization where I worked. After that, I went to the school to help the cook prepare the meal for about 50 kids from about 3-6 years old.
In mid-morning they had 1/2 hour break and I usually went outside with the children, playing with balls or making soap-water-bubbles, put them on the swing mad of a piece of tyre and other very simple games. Sometimes after that, I went to the classrooms to read a story in English, so they could get used to hear english words spoken. Most of the teachers there don't speak English. This point sometimes made things a bit difficult as we couldn't really communicate together. But I learned very quickly some amharic and it went fine.
I also helped to repair the electricity in the "kitchen". This place was just a kind of shack with a lot of holes in the roof. So the water came in when it rained and everything got wet, the walls, the floor and the electricity cables.
On saturdays, there was no regular school, but many kids, mostly older ones came to play or to do some handicrafts or whatever we prepared for them.
Afternoon: Sometimes I had the so-called afternoon classes. They were for kids who had finished the school but wanted to learn more. So I taught them English. Usually, there were kids from 4-15 years old in the same class and some spoke quite a bit english, others nothing at all. We had to do very basic things and have a lot of patience. The whole school-system is very different from what we are used to. Mostly they learn things by repeating it, over and over and over, just memorizing it. And, also a huge problem for foreigners, they don't only speak a different language, they also use another scripture than we do.
When there were no classes to be held, I did a lot of different things, I went to visit friends I have there, shopping, museums, watching a football-match in the stadium, we even went to play billiards. Sometimes I visited the leper colony or accompanied another women to the poor people in the area to bring them food or just to sit and talk a bit. I was used to seeing poverty, but for someone who never went to poor places, it can be quite difficult to see it. I mean, they are really, really poor. We also visited sick people in the hospital, just to make them feel less alone and to see they are well cared about.
Evening: At least once a week, we went to the city center to do what they call "street ministry". At this point, I have to say that the organization where I was turned out to be part of an evangelical church and they where all very strongly committed to that. For me, that was sometimes very difficult because I could witness scenes who still today make me shiver. I don't have any problem with any religion at all. But I'm not a "believer" and I would say what they did was sometimes close to brainwashing and they were proselytizing strongly. Apart from this, the work with the street kids was a good experience. To see where and how they live and to be able to share some time with them was very touching.
Otherwise the evenings went by going somewhere to eat dinner and sometimes have a drink with friends, or visiting someone at home, sometimes just hang around at home, talking, watching Al Jazeerah (I have been there during the nuclear catastrophe in Japan and the fights between Ghadaffi and the rebels and the NATO.) As I had to get up early, I didn't went to bed really late.
Highlights: The very friendly people in Addis Ababa, all the love and trust the children gave me, without even asking who I am or where I'm from. It's just unconditional love.
And sitting down in the nights with the street kids of Addis, talking, singing or just sitting and sharing time, giving them at least a glimpse of dignity they normally don't get during their incredibly hard time.
I think, volunteering is a great thing for people who stand with both feet on the ground, are able to work independently and to take care of themselves in not-everyday situations. I would not encourage very young ones or those who never travelled (or not to non-western countries to put it this way) to choose a volunteer job in a very poor country or in a place where they have really to be independent, because otherwise they may be more a burden then a real help and that's definitely not the sense of it. Many organizations seem to take just everyone, without really looking close. I guess there are lot of different possibilities, so choose carefully; and compare the prices too!
Michaela Rempp is a 23 year old woman from Vermont, a very small state in United States of America. She volunteered in Ethiopia from May to August of 2012, and it was her first time in Africa. She received her bachelor degree in Psychology from American University. Michaela loves to travel, exotic and spicy food, attending concerts, and taking pictures.
GO: Why did you decide to volunteer with Love Volunteers in Ethiopia?
Michaela: I decided to volunteer abroad with Love Volunteers because of their affordability, their care and promptness in answering all my questions, and that they made it easy to find and talk to people who had volunteered in their programs before. When I decided I really wanted to volunteer abroad in Africa I spent a lot of time looking into programs online, and all of them just seemed so incredibly expensive for only a few weeks of being abroad! Especially since flights are never included, and the cost really begins to add up. Love Volunteers finds programs in the country of interest that provide housing, food, airport transportation, and basically all the things that other programs provide, but for almost half the price.
It is always hard to trust what you find online too, especially when you find it on your own, but the easiest way to put yourself at ease is talking to others that have done the program, and can confirm that it is what the program claims. Love volunteers provides a lot of different outlets for finding those people, whether it is through their website, their facebook group, or simply them giving you the contact information of people that are willing to talk to prospective volunteers.
I was also extremely impressed with how quickly they responded to all my questions, and I am definitely someone who will ask a lot of questions! They took the time to look into what I needed, and reassured any of my concerns (which was anything from the visa needed, to the details of the specific program I wanted to do). I also really liked that they offered so many different programs (from teaching, child care, medical, to even environment and wildlife preservation) and in so many different countries. Ethiopia specifically interested me, so I participated in their medical program located in the capital city of Addis Ababa.
Any time I have a friend mention that they want to volunteer abroad, or even just go abroad I recommend they look into Love Volunteers for all of these reasons.
GO: Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Michaela: I volunteered in Ethiopia with the medical placement for 10 weeks over the summer. The medical placement ended up being a local organization that was setting up one of the first Hospice programs in Addis Ababa (the capital city of Ethiopia). It was an incredibly unique experience in that the program was really just starting when I went. I had a lot of involvement in deciding what was important goals for the program, meeting all of the possible patients to enroll in the program, and helping with educational trainings for the patients once enrolled.
What I did day to day always changed, but I would start around 8:30 in the morning and head to the center. In the beginning of the week the guy who heads the organization would explain the tasks we needed to get done for the week, or it was an open discussion to decide what the mission of the organization would be, or the criteria for the patients. The rest of the week was dedicated to getting the goals accomplished. The Hospice program is a home-visit set up, so always during the week we would visit the patients. At first we went to visit the one's who wanted help from the organization, allowing us to meet them, learn about their medical situation, collect medical documents, and set up files for them. I should mention that program was aimed towards individuals suffering from HIV/Aids, Cancer, or both.
Once we had set up a patient base we spent a lot of time figuring out which of their needs needed to be addressed first. All of them lived in one of the most poverty stricken areas of Addis Ababa, and they were all of very low income, or had none at all. So figuring out what they needed could include anything from who needed supplies for basic living (such as bringing them food, or helping fix their living spaces). We also began holding informational sessions for things like the importance of hygiene, sex education, and basic education on HIV/Aids.
Since the program was just starting up I would often volunteer until about 1 in the afternoon and go home for lunch, which was always delicious, authentic food prepared by a wonderful woman. The organization I volunteered with also had a school, so in the afternoon's I helped with their after school program. This would include things like leading about 20-30 kids (ages 8-16) in activities like games, arts and crafts, or teaching some how to use a computer.
GO: What made this experience unique and special?
Michaela: What made this volunteer experience abroad unique and special was being able to help set up a hospice program that was so incredibly needed in the community we lived in. Going to the individuals houses, if you can call them houses, hearing all of their stories, and getting to know them was so incredibly humbling, inspiring, and devastating at the same time. I remember the first day I went to some of the patients homes it was so overwhelming because of the extreme lack of the things every human being needs to live (such as water and food), and of course hearing the stories of how they contracted HIV and the response from their village, families, and husbands. It was heartbreaking.
It was also really special that I was able to play with the kids in the afternoon. My mornings were very emotionally intense with sorrow, yet hope, while my afternoons were a little bit more light-hearted and fun. I also every day could feel the difference I was making, yet at the same time I was getting so much out of the experience. Another great aspect of the experience was that I lived in a guesthouse right in the community I volunteered in, and with the local Ethiopians that ran the organization. I felt I was immersed in the culture, and was able to learn and live the customs first hand. The Ethiopians I came to know really well, have become like a family to me, and that can be a really unique experience compared to some programs were you may not be as immersed.
I also was able to travel a bit around Ethiopia, which was absolutely wonderful. I went to a few other cities, and was even able to do a little volunteer work in one city with some orphaned kids.
GO: How has this experience impacted your future?
Michaela: My experience has impacted me both personally and professionally. Personally my outlook on life has changed so much; I was very humbled by everything I saw, and I appreciate a lot more of the simple things. I felt as though I was the best version of myself during my trip, and everyday I try to hold on to that here at home. Professionally I have changed a lot too. I went to Ethiopia with one career in mind, but after the work I did I developed a passion for a different career. I now have a strong desire to become a nurse and work in third world countries with people in desperate need for medical treatment. I have also started volunteering for an amazing organization in my own community that helps those with HIV/Aids.
About Love Volunteers
We are just a handful of passionate people working hard to help volunteers and local communities around the world. We don't have huge overheads - no company cars, no downtown office - we're just volunteers who thought we could do a better job. We work with local organisations wherever we can to keep administration costs to a minimum and also to return as much money and skills to the local communities where we operate. We can offer the lowest possible fees, but also ensure that you are immersed in the local culture and are actually making a difference!