Alumni Spotlight: Lynn O Connell


Tell us a little about yourself.

I volunteered in Chile from September 2009-March 2010. I am from Queens, New York and currently live in Manhattan. I am 25 years old and work in Development at New York University. I am also a candidate for Masters of the Arts in International Education.

Why did you decide to volunteer with VE Global in Chile?

After studying abroad in Spain, I knew I wanted to return to a Spanish speaking country after college. I also knew, from previous volunteer experiences, that I wanted to work with children, specifically at-risk children. When searching online, the first thing that attracted to me about VE Global was that you didn't have to pay to volunteer. I also appreciated that the focus of VE is not on teaching English, rather on helping the children in a variety of ways.

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

Everyday was completely different (as it is, I am sure, for most volunteers!). I worked in a hogar (home) for at-risk teenage girls so they, for most of the year, had school during the days and I would go to the hogar around 2:00pm. I also worked on the Resource Development Committee in the office.

In the mornings I would walk around the city or run to Cerro San Cristobal (the big hill in the center of the city!) then either work on a fundraising event (drafting solicitation letters, going to businesses asking for raffle prizes, viewing venues for space, etc) or set up a project for the girls. At the hogar, we would greet everyone as we arrived, and chat about the girls' days. The girls had a scheduled homework hour everyday. That usually consisted of me helping them with their math homework, and sometimes history or Spanish. After homework hour, we would hold our workshops.

The workshops varied from math lessons, educational card games, sports tournaments, cooking lessons, arts & crafts, gardening, reading, dance, english, etc (in our conversations with the girls, we decided what they needed/wanted the most). Then we had "once" (essentially tea time). After once, there was usually about an hour or so that we were able to take a group of girls to the nearby playground to run around playfully or lay in the grass and chat. A lot of the days consisted of holding these workshops but the most memorable were when we just sat around and talked about our lives, or translated lyrics of their favorite songs. It often felt like we were good friends, or even sisters, just hanging out.

What made this volunteer experience unique and special?

VE Global is a unique organization for 2 main reasons. First, the organization is structured so that the volunteer immerses themselves in the institution and finds what the kids truly need. The minimum 4 length stay helps us really get to know each other. We have standing programs but the volunteer is able to delve deeper with the kids. It helps to create a more sustainable impact for the children as opposed to teaching English for a week and leaving.

One of the hardest parts of my experience was leaving the girls because it was like saying goodbye to a good friend. We had so many great memories of laughing together, being silly, crying, etc. The other great thing about VE is the support from the staff and other volunteers. They do an incredible job of creating a family for us in Chile. They are supportive of all the work we do as well as our emotional health. I had a constant feeling of euphoria throughout my experience. Also... Chile is a beautiful country :)

How has this experience helped you grow personally and professionally?

I can honestly say I have never felt as fulfilled and happy as I did during my time with VE Global. It taught me how caring and resilient people are. It also helped me figure out what makes a great experience for volunteers and children both. I have continued to volunteer in NYC with children and sense more compassion and patience in my work which the girls in Chile taught me. I have also gained a new respect for the Spanish language and Latin culture; which is, fortunately, easily accessible in NYC!! I am currently pursuing my Masters degree in International Education with the hope to give others an experience similar to mine in the future!