Tag Archives: Volunteer travel

Giving Back- Project Argentina

Choosing a volunteer project as part of my career break was something that I felt I needed to do.  I wanted to give back in some way but I wasn’t exactly sure how or what.  While I haven’t done a large amount of volunteer work in the past, this was something I was looking to change.  I soon realized how naïve I was to the world of volunteer travel. I volunteered on a farm outside of Buenos Aires with underprivileged children for a week organized through G Adventures http://www.gapadventures.com/trips/project-argentina/TSAPJB/2011/ .

I spent 5 days working with the children on the farm and helping out in the kitchen.  These children needed to learn basic survivals skills.  My top 4 challenges were:

1)      Lack of direction– the project manager on site did not give any sort of direction on my work tasks.  I was dropped off with my bags, shown to my cabin, and basically left to fend on my own.  As I learned later on in my travels, this was not uncommon of many volunteer opportunities.

2)      Language–  nobody could speak English.  And the few that could speak a few words could only speak basic English.  Although, I had just finished two weeks of Spanish classes I didn’t nearly have enough vocabulary to contribute in a way that I felt would be meaningful.

3)      Food– about an hour before my departure, a G Adventures representative called me to let me know I probably wouldn’t like the food as it was very local.  This was definitely an understatement.  I lived off of oranges and bread for the week.

4)      Isolation– In today’s constantly connected world, spending a week in a remote rural area without any connection to the outside world was tough.  While I spent my mornings helping out on the farm, there was plenty of free time in the afternoons and evenings.

What I learned:

1)      You will only get out of it what you put into it!  I easily could have completely broke down after my first few attempts to understand the reasons they needed a volunteer.  Without any sort of direction on my arrival and basic communication skills, I needed to make it up as I went. 

2)      Communication is powerful.   I became best friends with a  6 year old who was learning English at school.  His English was the most advanced of the entire group at the farm and he was my translator. 

3)      If you are hungry enough, you will eat anything.  Watching the children on the farm rush to get as much food on their plates before it was all gone brought tears to my eyes.  They didn’t care what it tasted like; it was food. 

4)      Money really doesn’t bring happiness.  The people who lived on this farm were poor but they were happy and kind people living a very simple life.  Still money does buy freedom and choice.  I started to truly appreciate the freedom and choices I was given in my life that I took for granted everyday.

 While my volunteer experience wasn’t necessarily what I was expecting and felt very disorganized from the beginning.  I did get exactly what I was hoping to gain out of it- persepective.  If you are looking to do some volunteer travel, do your research.  Know what you are getting into and what the language requirements are for the project.  Try to get some feedback from people who have gone on those specific sites or used that volunteer agency.  After all, you want to ensure that you are helping in the most meaningful way possible.


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