Why did you choose this program?
I chose to volunteer with Aldeas de Paz for multiple reasons.
First, I had been on vacation to Samaná in the Dominican for two weeks, and was looking for an opportunity to return for a longer stay. I had also been looking for an organization that had a volunteer program in my field, which is working with Children with Special Needs. The Mama Elba Volunteer Program was just what I was looking for. Finally, I was looking for an opportunity to participate in activities and other programs that were not necessarily in relation to my studies.
Aldeas de Paz turned out to be just that and even more with the opportunity of learning Spanish which was very important to me.
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
I decided to plan this volunteer trip all on my own, but was in communication back and forth with Aldeas de Paz, sending e-mails to Manfred and Julia which they answered very quickly and efficiently. They provided me with all the information and contacts I needed here in Samana so my arrival would go as smoothly as possible. There was a volunteer who was sent with the taxi driver to start my orientation and answer all my questions, which was great!
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
If you want to do it, go for it and do not be afraid to ask questions. I asked billions of them before my arrival. I was probably a bit annoying, but it really reassured me and confirmed that I should participate in this program. Of course, after my experience, I would take the same decision and do it again without a doubt!
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
Our schedule went like this:
Monday to Friday (2PM – 6PM): We would volunteer in school. I participated in teaching English to Dominicans on Tuesday evenings. We would have our Spanish classes on Wednesdays from 9:00am to 12:00pm.
Finally, on Mondays, we would have a meeting before school. On Fridays, we also meet to plan our following week in school.
The rest of the time we could spend a little at the beach before work, and weekends were free for us to do as we wish.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
Honestly, I would not say I was afraid. The only thing that I was preoccupied with was being on my own and not knowing anybody. I chose the housing option to be in an apartment with different volunteers so I knew I was bound to make friends. When I finally arrived, whatever preoccupations I had vanished.
First, with having a volunteer greet me at the airport with the taxi driver; they both made me feel very comfortable from the start. Also, the drive from the airport to Samana was reassuring because I remembered the familiar roads and places from when I came on vacation the first time. Finally, when we arrived at the apartment, the volunteers all greeted me and made me feel right at home. I knew I was going to fit right in, and now here I am back again for a teaching contract.
Why should I volunteer in the Dominican?
This country and its people are in need of a lot of things, but mostly do it as a life experience and for yourself.
The culture and mentality here are very different from Canada which is just what I needed. Some of the people here do not live with much, but still manage to put a smile on their faces and make the best of everyday.
My experiences here have been mostly positive; I have learned Spanish and am still learning. I visited a variety of places, but still plan on visiting more. I made great friends from here and other parts of the world like the US and Germany. I lived in an area where Dominicans treat me like part of their family.
I got myself a Dominican boyfriend, and we are still going strong after almost a year of being together. I have been to musical events where I got to see Ozuna, Maluma, Nicky Jam, and more amazing Latin artists. I could go on and on because I have made some really great memories and life experiences here!
Finally, when travelling, I believe that it is extremely important to keep an open mind, try to adapt yourself to the culture of the country you are visiting.
See it as learning experience for yourself, but also for the people you will have the chance to be in contact with. Keeping an open mind is the way to go in my book!