I came to volunteer abroad with VE Global in 2010 for 6 months. The best way to describe my experience would be life changing. I chose VE Global because I would be working with children and not just teaching English which was the case with many other programs. VE work with various institutions including orphanages, homes and schools. I came to Chile to make a difference to a child's life and I felt like I did that but it was also a life changing experience for me too.
All children no matter what language they speak just want to be loved. I worked in a school, a squatters camp and a girls home. All these experiences were different. The school had structure and I knew what I had to do. I helped children with their school work and I supervised them during their break and lunch time. I was also able to do an English class once a week and the children loved it. Teaching was hard work, and only now do I truly understand how much preparation goes into making one 45 min class. The reward you get when a child understands and remembers the words they had learnt are amazing. I used to stay up late the night before to make sure I completed my lesson plan and it was worth it esp when I had a good class. And when it was a bad class, it taught me things which were not done well, activities which may have been too complex or long.
At the squatters camp and the girls home it was a lot harder, children didn't have any real routine and I had to think of ways to entertain them. Whether it was playing with them, reading with them, drawing etc...it was not easy to engage the children and sometimes I was just sitting with them whilst they watched TV. I found it was not so much making them do things but just being there with them that was important. So I found I had days when I was in the girls home and the children didn't want to go out, it was too hot, or they didn't want to play/read it was school holidays and they just wanted to watch TV. But for the children it was just about you being there. Every day they came to expect you. I turned up and went with the flow, I would take various bits from VE; books, pens and colours, jigsaw puzzles etc. and depending on what took their interest, we adapted the day accordingly. With the elder girls I did some jewellery making workshops, we made earrings and bracelets and it was a great way to engage the teenage girls.
Being a volunteer is rewarding but hard work aswell, I felt like I was working harder than I did in my 9-5 job back in the UK. I found my time was filled with volunteering and preparation for the next day, VE meetings and work and then there was also a great social network amongst the volunteers.
Living in another country was also something I had to adjust to. Where to buy groceries and the best place for this. We had older volunteers assigned to help us with this and they were invaluable in helping to get us settled into Chile. Before I went a friend who did a lot of missionary work had said to me it would take 3-4 months to really feel settled in and she was spot on. Once you are past that point everything is so much easier. buying medicine, getting around in the city and feeling like the children trust you and respond to you.
What I found was its not about making a difference on a big level, but its the tiny things and it can just be to one child. Spending one-to-one time is so important to that one child. When a child in the girls home who was 3-4 said she couldn't write her name and I said yes she could and dotted it for her and she followed the lines. When she completed it she jumped up and down. The smile and joy on her face was priceless.
There are so many experiences I got from volunteering; sad as well as joyful when you hear some of the questions the children asked. But what it made me realise is that any child any country could use a role model and for me that's what you are to a child. After volunteering I have never seen life in quite the same way again. I see many opportunities to help others and look at what I can do. I started working with some charities when I got home to the UK. Just going to another country where you don't know the language very well or the customs and adjusting to these and the friends you make along the way change your perspective and outlook.
looking back the things I miss are the mountains, my flatmates and most of all the smile on a child's face and the big hug you get from them for just being there. I recommend volunteering to anyone, it will change your life in the most unexpected way and only once you go through it will you truly understand how.