Why did you choose this program?
One reason that I chose International Volunteer HQ's Animal Care program because I was impressed with the professional and thorough content of their website. The representatives explained the application process well and answered all of my questions quickly.
Another reason was that I really wanted to travel to Mexico but still have guidance. IVHQ's partner organization in Merida, Mexico was very hands-on and easy to contact if any volunteer needed assistance.
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
IVHQ offered a great amount of dedicated support, such as with finding flights and travel insurance. They also offered helpful tips on how to fundraise for my trip. While IVHQ offers tips and support, it was my job to obtain all of these items. I booked my own flight using points and purchased travel insurance (which is a requirement for all volunteers).
Once you apply and are accepted into your volunteer program, you have access to online volunteer training and a checklist that helps you keep track of the tasks you need to complete in order to be ready for your trip. Each program also has an IVHQ Program Manager who is your main source of contact and support until you arrive in-country.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
One tip I would give someone on this program is to take time in advance to study Spanish. While my program did not require an advanced level of Spanish, it was helpful knowing basic phrases in order to communicate with the staff at the animal shelters. In addition, local people will appreciate that you've taken some time to learn their language.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
An average day starts with having breakfast at the volunteer house. I was fortunate to arrive in Mexico the week before Christmas, so there were many volunteers around to eat with. Next, my fellow volunteers and I would either take an Uber or public transportation to our volunteer placement. Our daily tasks included cleaning the shelter, bathing the animals, and feeding and watering. We would volunteer for about 4 hours and then the rest of the day was ours!
Most of the time, we either returned to the volunteer house to eat lunch and/ or ran some errands. Sometimes we would wander around Merida in the afternoon or do some sightseeing. Some volunteers would take Spanish language classes in the afternoon.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
It sounds silly, but one of my biggest fears was about eating and drinking. Before volunteering in Mexico, I had never been to a country where I had to use caution when drinking the local water and eating certain foods. I overcame this fear by listening to the input of the local organization (in Mexico). They told all the volunteers where to buy water and refill the containers.
My views on animal care and welfare have transformed tremendously since volunteering in Mexico with IVHQ. The local staff at the animal shelters work hard with the resources they have and do the best they can to improve the lives of the cats and dogs in Merida. Not only did I feel like I was making a difference in the lives of the animals, but I could sense how grateful the local staff were for our help. It was a challenge to say "good bye" to the people and animals I met.
What should I pack?
IVHQ will provide you with a suggested packing list. I packed a lot of toiletries and ended up not needing them because there was a large supermarket and mall nearby. If you are volunteering for longer than one week, skip packing all the cute, mini-sized bottles and buy larger bottles at the supermarket. Almost all of the products I used in the U.S. were available in Mexico.
Anything you'd like us to know?
Thank you for extending an offer to fill out this form! I'm excited to help you help others to volunteer abroad!