Alumni Spotlight: Thomas Hughes


Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with Voluntario Global in Argentina?

I was doing a placement year for the third year of my university degree (Politics & International Relations), and I thought that it'd be a great time to try actually living in another country instead of moving through quite quickly, and also sneak a few months traveling in before having to come back and completing my degree.

I hadn't been to South America before, but I'd heard a lot of great things about Argentina from a few friends that had travelled around South America. I picked VG out of the organizations I looked at partly because I got a nice friendly vibe when I e-mailed some questions, but also because it is a smaller independent organization, and I felt I'd be able to have more of an impact there as opposed to come of the huge volunteering "corporations" that I encountered online. It was also partly financially, it made no difference in terms of the donation I made to the organisation that I was staying for a long period of time (all placements over 3 months have the same donation), whereas many others I looked at charged the same month on month no matter how long the placement was.

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

Day to day work was pretty varied! On the communications team I coordinated the internal communication with volunteers and helped with the weekly induction sessions for new volunteers, as well as proof reading blog articles translated into English to make sure they were correct. At the orphanage I helped in the day to day caring for the children, organized arts & crafts activities and helped the older kids with their homework. It was pretty flexible to be honest, and other volunteers organized different kinds of activities to keep the children entertained. I volunteered 4 or 5 days a week depending on if we had an intake of new volunteers, which gave me ample time to wander around Buenos Aries and enjoy the social and cultural life of the city.

How has this experience impacted your future?

In terms of what I got out of the experience, academically it has given me a really interesting insight into my dissertation topic on how small NGOs can effectively deliver services to communities in poverty. But especially important to me was the Spanish language skills I acquired. I was never very good at languages at school, but after 6 months volunteering in BA and 3 traveling in South America I was if not fluent, very close and I don't think that anything can approach immersion in a community in terms of quickly acquiring languages.

Working with children was also a very humbling experience. Many of them came from families which had been abusive in a variety of ways, or were living with HIV. I had never really considered working with children before going to volunteer at the orphanage, but the experience and the feeling of being able to improve their lives, even if only in very small ways like ice-cream after the playground on Thursdays, or having someone they knew in the audience at their school play has made me think twice about that.

I'd massively recommend anyone thinking about spending any decent length of time time in and around Buenos Aries to take a look at the VG pages and see if there are any projects they feel like they want to get involved in. It isn't always easy, and what you get out of it does depend on what you put in to it, but it was genuinely one of the most rewarding experiences of my life!