Alumni Spotlight: Nathalie Harris


Nathalie Harris, volunteered from the beginning of May to the middle of June 2012 in Cordoba, Argentina. Nathalie Harris is from Jersey, Channel Islands where she currently works full time for a private equity firm after graduating from Durham University with a foreign languages degree. She is 22 years old and enjoys travelling, spending time with family and friends and skiing.

What inspired you to volunteer with Projects Abroad in Argentina?

Nathalie: When studying for my languages degree, we were required to take the third year of study as a placement year in the countries where the languages were spoken. As I studied Spanish, I had spent lots of time in Spain. So I decided that I wanted to explore a bit of South America.

Throughout school and university I have always had an interest in volunteering and have taken part in many volunteer activities such as visiting elderly people on a weekly basis and helping out in charity shops.

When looking into the different companies that send volunteers abroad, Projects Abroad was recommended to me by some of my school peers in Jersey.

And I found that by applying for a trip with them, I could combine my desire to volunteer abroad at a children’s care home with experiencing a South American country and speaking Spanish.

All in all, it seemed like the ideal program for me! I was particularly inspired to choose the care program in Argentina because, despite Argentina being one of the most developed countries in South America, I knew there were still many unfortunate children who appreciated the help of volunteers.

I had also studied much of the literature and culture of Argentina and knew it was a place I would love to experience for myself.

Tell us about the best moment of the trip.

Nathalie: There were numerous outstanding moments during my trip and it is very hard to pinpoint just one. So I will highlight a couple of special moments. Firstly, at times it was very hard to entertain and make the children enjoy their time in the Argentinean care home as they had either been abandoned by their parents or taken away from them.

This meant they were often doing all sorts of things to attract attention, becoming violent and fighting between themselves or were very quiet and subdued. Many of them also had learning difficulties. My main job was to come up with activities to entertain them and allow the full time staff to have a break.

Every day I would go in to the care home with a new activity or game. There were 2 activities invented by myself and the girl I was volunteering and living with which went down particularly well with the children and which I especially remember as it was so rewarding to see the children so engaged and happy.

We played a very simple game of bingo one afternoon which involved the children recognizing and saying numbers. It was actually quite advanced for them and something they really enjoyed and were able to get competitive while playing!

We also made big cardboard butterflies with a picture of each child and handed them round for decoration and painting. They loved this as they could throw glitter around and express themselves through arts and crafts.

I also have to comment on how amazing the family I lived with were and one of my favorite moments was sitting in the back garden playing card games with them and other volunteers on the warmer evenings during my trip.

What was the most challenging aspect of your experience?

Nathalie: I was expecting to feel quite homesick in Argentina as it was so far away from the UK. However, surprisingly I wasn’t homesick at all throughout the trip; I was just so busy spreading my time between the care home, exploring the city nightlife and cultural aspects of Argentina and enjoying making new friends.

So, if there had to be a challenging aspect of my experience it would just be that at times it was very difficult to see how the children in the care home were living their lives.

They lived in very poor conditions and at times it was hard to see the way the full time staff treated them - with very short tempers.

There was one evening when a family of 4 children were dropped off by their mother at the care home and the youngest was just a baby (under 6 months old).

It was difficult to understand the motivation behind leaving your children in this situation and you quickly come to realize how much poverty there is in Argentina.

What was your favourite aspect of the culture in Argentina?

Nathalie: The reason why I chose to undertake a volunteer placement in Argentina was because I had learnt lots about the culture through my studies and I wanted to experience it first hand.

I can’t say that there was any particular aspect of the culture that stood out as my favorite. Rather it was the combination of the great food, the friendliness of the Argentinean people and the depth of history in Argentina which makes it such a special place to visit.

I was particularly lucky to live with a family who had so much information to share about the Argentinean culture. And they really encouraged us to immerse ourselves and try everything. They were also very happy to answer all our questions about the country and give us their views on the turbulent history and interesting political and economic climate in Argentina

Any tips/advice for someone considering volunteering in Argentina?

Nathalie: My main piece of advice for anyone considering volunteering in Argentina is to get involved in as many of the activities organised by the volunteer company as possible. This is the best way to meet other volunteers and will enable you to travel around the country and discover all the beautiful sights and places.

I was lucky enough to visit Buenos Aires and Mendoza on weekend trips with friends. I went horseback riding, white water rafting and participated in wine tasting tours.

I would also advise potential volunteers to perhaps learn some Spanish before traveling to Argentina. It is not essential as you can undoubtedly get by relying on other people’s knowledge of English. But this will limit you in a care home, for example where the children don’t even know a language other than their own exists!

My knowledge of Spanish definitely allowed me to properly interact with the children, build a relationship with them and therefore help them to enjoy life a little more.