Volunteering in a Third World Country
When was the last time you thought about checking the source of your drinkable water to see if it was safe to drink or not? When was the last time you worried about where you would sleep tonight or if you would make it through the night because of the war and outrage outside your home? When was the last time you worried about what you will eat or will feed your kids tomorrow? If you have never experienced this, be grateful. If you have never seen this first hand, you have never been exposed to life in a third world country.
When we think of our everyday lives, many times we don't appreciate what we have unless you've experienced the reality of life in a poor community. Even if we have seen poverty in a country as tourists, we tend to forget what we see. Living in the first world makes us so materialistic. We live in a world that is easily influenced by the internet and social media, which make us constantly want more things. I had noticed that the last few years of my life had been somewhat like this and I wanted to break away from it. I decided to disconnect myself completely from my life in the US and go see the world. I decided it was time to leave all the luxuries behind and try to contribute to society. I want to share with you my experience as a volunteer in Guatemala.
When I first considered volunteering I really liked the idea; however, I didn't know that it would become a life changing event for me. I decided to research NGOs throughout Latin America. I considered some in Peru and Bolivia, but then I remembered how my country also has several NGOs that work on impoverished communities and I thought this would be perfect opportunity to visit my family while also helping my community, but most importantly, I did it because poverty in Guatemala is both widespread and severe. Approximately 75 percent of the population is estimated to live below the poverty line, which is defined as an income that is insufficient to purchase a basic basket of goods and services. Poverty Analysis - Guatemala: An Assessment of Poverty - World Bank. For these reasons, I decided that Guatemala was the place for me to volunteer.
Once I knew that Guatemala was the country for me it was time to search for the right NGO. I found several NGOs. I would suggest to do your research before selecting an NGO. Make sure you understand how the organization works, where their funds are going (they should be public record), also read testimonials and NGO ratings. I recommend visiting sites such as Charity Navigator - Your Guide To Intelligent Giving | Home to see what they have to say about the NGO. I found two organizations I wanted to work with, 1) Common Hope, which is US owned and operated in Guatemala and 2) Obras Sociales del Hermano Pedro (OSHP) Obras Sociales del Santo Hermano Pedro, which is a local organization in Guatemala. I had the pleasure of working with both organizations and I am so happy I took the leap of faith to do so.
The first week I worked with Common Hope, which is based in Antigua, Guatemala. This NGO works with impoverished communities by helping low-income families by building homes, providing education for their children, and providing adequate and free healthcare. Their facility is property equipped and has various divisions, from home construction to small medical clinics, schools, and child nurseries. When I first learned about this organization I knew this would be the perfect place for me to volunteer. I was welcomed by one of the program recruiters, Heather, she was great at explaining about the organization and she also took me on a city tour. We visited a family whom Common Hope had built a home for and they were extremely grateful for our visit and for their home. We also visited a local elementary school that Common Hope sponsors in the town of San Miguel Escobar. The tour was good but the real fun began the following day when I started to help in several departments.
During my volunteer stay I worked at the school library, at the child nursery, at the youth center, and at the main office tutoring students and translating. It was a great experience overall. Within the short volunteer period I felt so attached to the people I worked with, especially with the young children at the daycare and nursery. It was so amazing to hear their stories and to know about their families. It is a great feeling to know that you are helping them and giving them the love their deserve (and often don't have).
There was a boy I learned to love in no time, his name was Elmer, he is one of 8 children and he has a speech impairment disability. He and his family live in a small village in the outskirts of Antigua and Common Hope is helping by sponsoring him and two other siblings. I remember one of the first days during breakfast time, he was asking me for more food, the teacher told me, "Feed him once more, he is one of 8 children and most likely, the meals he has here at the school are his only nutritional meals" Hearing this just broke my heart. This child has such an amazing spirit, and is so strong, I really admired him because despite his tough story at such a young age, he was always smiling and had a positive mind. This was a big learning lesson for me and really made an impact in my life. I am so grateful for this experience.
Common Hope became like a family to me. I quickly made new friends during my stay there, both workers and volunteers. It was time well invested and I would do it all over again. They have a donation and sponsorship program if you are interested on making a one-time donation or sponsor a child this is an organization that I would highly recommend.
The second week I worked with another organization (OSHP), this is a hospital for disabled children, adults, and the elderly. This organization is a great place as well; however, I really recommend people who work in the medical field to volunteer for this organization. They are highly understaffed unfortunately and for that reason, you will likely have to perform nurse duties. It is very demanding and you have to be 100% healthy to be able to perform your duties. Unfortunately, I was coming down with a flu when I began to volunteer here and given the atmosphere (hospital) I became sick within a couple of days and was unable to complete my time here. OSHP is a good organization and I would highly urge assistance or monetary donations for this hospital. They have a no photography policy so unfortunately I was not able to take any pictures here but please check out their website, and if you feel in your heart to donate, please do so.
If you are considering or have considered becoming a volunteer at one point I urge you to do it as soon as possible. This volunteering experience humbled me and I guarantee you that you will not only have a good time while doing so but the memories you will create, the life learning experience you will gain, and the self fulfillment will be priceless and you will cherish these for the rest of your life.
This experience only planted a seed for me and I cannot wait to do this again! There are several programs and organizations throughout Latin America, Africa, and Asia (see this link) Volunteer World: Volunteer Abroad Programs & Reviews. Where will it be? I don't know... but one thing I do know, it left a mark on me, it changed me, it made me a better person, and I will cherish this forever.