If you are serious about volunteering and doing something meaningful with your time, go somewhere else. What ETIV advertises on their website is not at all what the reality actually is. All the volunteer descriptions online state the following: “volunteers work at least 4 hours a day/20 hours a week, usually from Monday to Friday from 9am – 1pm.”
Well, this isn’t true. I had originally signed up to help with English teaching and environmental classes. English classes consist of the following: One 1 hour English class a week in Passagem (the “poorer” community where the ETIV office and volunteer house is located). About 2 weeks into my stay another English class was started in another area of Itacare, but this was also only for 1 hour. So, 2 hours of “teaching” a week, plus a couple hours prep… = 20 hours of “meaningful” volunteer work? The English “teachers” are not qualified to teach and do not have much guidance in terms of lesson plans, weekly/monthly plans for what to teach the kids, and no real support. I was told when I arrived to not expect too much from English classes with the kids as it is more to spend time with the kids than what it is to teach English. So what is the point then? The website makes a big deal out of creating the future leaders of Itacare and instilling core values into them and helping them be better, yet I was left with a very strong impression that it was all just for show and the NGO is not actually doing too much for the community.
The environmental class is also once a week for one hour. Youth development is pretty much just supporting the English and environmental classes. More than half the positions advertised on their website are not even up and running and those that are are so disorganized. Why not partner with local organizations who are already established? I tried to run a sports class but this too was an epic fail. The first one was cancelled due to inclement weather, the second one the kids showed up half an hour late and the third was cancelled without anyone informing me of this. This is another thing, the NGO lacks leadership. The director doesn’t seem to know what is going on half the time, doesn’t know how to lead a team, and doesn’t seem to know how to run her NGO effectively. She has many years experience in the field according to the website, but this experience doesn’t seem to show in the day to day running of the NGO.
The assistant director is a volunteer who doesn’t seem to know much about the working world. She is pro “just give the volunteers tasks and let them do it” without providing much structure or any semblance of a schedule or time frame to follow to have things accomplished by. The director agreed that it would be a good idea to try incorporating some sort of schedule so people’s days are more structured… Yet none of this was ever communicated effectively to the volunteers so everyone ended up complaining about each other… The one girl was always complaining about having to wait on others to get things done yet she was the first one who did not want to have a more structured schedule in place. One of the others tried to step up to try get things better organized but then the others complained about her telling them what to do…It was a lose/lose situation. I understand the need to be flexible especially in a little rural village, however one needs to find the balance between structure and flexibility.
I was never asked for a police clearance certificate. I was working with kids yet for all anyone knew I could have had a criminal record as long as my arm. (which I don’t)
When I asked about getting a taxi from the house to the bus station to leave I was told to contact the taxi driver myself. I don’t mind making my own arrangements, I have been traveling all over for a very long time so I am not afraid to do things on my own, but why am I paying the NGO for “ongoing support” when I have to do everything myself anyway?
I had to have very cold showers a few days in a row. I brought this to the attention of the assistant director who told me that there had never been hot water (yes, no hot water but there was always warm water), there’s only cold water and it was because of the time of day I was showering as the water tank was being heated by the sun. Hmmm. Ok. A few days later in the staff meeting it came to light that there was something wrong with the wiring which is why there was only cold water. So, where was my support and understanding from those in charge? Instead of blowing me off, why not look into the matter and try be more helpful and understanding?
My room was dirty upon arrival. There was a used condom wrapper under the bed, the floor under the bed had not been swept, the closest was full of mould, and the fan had not been cleaned and was covered in thick dust. The sheet I was given was stained brown and had rips and tears in it. The duvet cover/sheet was stained black (from mould I assume). The dish cloths were also stained black. Some of the kitchen utensils were so rusted and worse for wear they should be discarded. The kitchen was filthy. The dish rack was so thick with dirt and grime (and this for CLEAN dishes) that it seemed like it hadn’t been cleaned in months. The chopping boards were also so stained with mould they should also be discarded and new ones purchased.
There is a laundry machine in the house however should you wish to use it it will set you back R$20 per wash (even to wash your sheets when you leave). The machine only uses cold water and doesn’t seem to clean the clothes thoroughly. I used the machine twice and both times my clothes came out still somewhat dirty. If you choose not to pay R$20 you will have to wash your things by hand in a bucket, or take it to the Laundromat in town.
Now, the “tours”. Some of these are with reputable companies who have insurance and are covered if anything were to happen to you. Some of these “tours” are really just a fisherman transporting you in a boat to a location. That is not a tour. For example, a “tour” to Pontal is really just a R$5 ride in a fisherman’s boat to Pontal. That is not a tour (in my opinion.).
Also, I had initially wanted to learn capoeira. The director didn’t know that the person apparently contracted for this had started a new job and was no longer offering the capoeira. Granted the director of the NGO offered that I join the beach fitness class instead (to which I agreed) but it still left a bitter taste in my mouth. I wanted to do capoeira. It was supposed to be included in my package, yet the NGO doesn’t even keep up to date with what it is offering and if these things are even still available.
On a positive note though, I was initially signed up to stay for 6 months. When I saw that the reality was different to what was advertised the NGO agreed to allow me to change my stay to only one month and reimbursed me the rest of my money. I had signed up for the package, and two weeks into my stay I had to get stitches in my hand. Again the NGO agreed to change my package to a “just volunteer” commitment for 1 month so I managed to receive some money back. However, I still feel like this was a complete waste of my time and money. I chose ETIV and Itacare as I wanted to improve my Portuguese, practice capoeira and have an impact and be able to help the community. Unfortunately these things never came to fruition, but it was definitely a learning experience.
The little village is quaint. If you enjoy the beach, surfing and socializing then you’ll enjoy the town. I am an introvert so I don’t need much in terms of mingling with people, so the town wasn’t of too much importance to me (I chose Itacare for the humanitarian aspects). However the location is beautiful. If location and the social aspect are more important to you, then you may have a great time here. If the humanitarian and volunteering aspect is more important to you, perhaps look elsewhere.
I sincerely do hope they get more structure into the NGO and focus on building it up and possibly building partnerships with other, more established NGOs already operating in the Itacare area.
There is so much potential and opportunity to do meaningful work and truly empower people but there has to be better leadership and better organization. I wish them all the best and hope they realize their goals in the future.
(P.S: I would be interested in hearing from previous volunteers if anyone has had similar experiences there? Some people I spoke to had similar opinions to me so it would be interesting to see if this is how the NGO has been running since its inception.)