I am a skeptic.
I do not take anything anyone tells me for granted, I always check- and double check every fact.
When I decided to travel to Guatemala and volunteer with NDG -Ninos De Guatemala- I was skeptic too- and after spending almost a month in Antigua-Guatemala- volunteering and touring (AKA voluntouring), I can give you my own private skeptical point of view on volunteering with NDG .
THE WHOLE TRUTH AND NOTHING BUT IT.
First- why volunteer? why not just fly to central america and hike-sight see- enjoy good hotels and sit in coffee shops ? enjoy a proper vacation- I mean -If you are spending time and money and the flights aren’t short either- you should enjoy yourself, right?
I agree- you should enjoy yourself.
The question is- are you happy with the usual way you travel , or are you looking for something else. I dare say- more meaningful than the usual way I used to travel abroad: shopping-museums- sightseeing- hotels- restaurants.
And please don’t get me wrong- there is nothing wrong with relaxing, having a good time, sight-seeing and museum strolling. actually you can add hiking and other self-enriching experiences to this list.
I am definitely not giving up on these kind of experiences .
This post has 2 purposes as I see it: the first is to suggest another way of traveling- after you have read all about the lessons I’ve learned from my month in Guatemala, and the second purpose is to give you my full and true opinion about this specific NGO- should you consider voluntouring in Guatemala .
I want to start by stating a few obvious and yet perhaps overlooked notions:
- voluntouring in my opinion is as selfish as every other trip. the fact that I decided to dedicate the money (and time) I would have otherwise spent on fancy hotels-a thrilling hike or other adventure-interesting meals -fancy museums-to an organization focused on helping others- is definitely very nice of me- but I still believe that if I level with myself I will agree that the giver- in this case me- profited from giving just as much as the recipient of the gift, maybe even more. many studies show that volunteering fills you with good energy, a sense of accomplishment, and overall happiness.
2. Be humble . you will not change the world-cure hunger- or cure anything else for that matter- in the few days-few weeks-few months you will volunteer.
Maybe if you were a millionaire and were to give millions of $ to charity -you would make a significant difference. but most of us aren’t, and I believe it is important to be realistic about your true ability to impact other people’s lives, otherwise you might end up thinking you wasted your time &money, only because the change isn’t visible.
3.The extent of your sense of accomplishment and making a true difference is totally up to you.
I started volunteering not knowing any Spanish. well maybe basic level acquired on “duolingo”- which is a good app -but when you need to speak to locals -you find out it’s a bit more complicated than writing your answer in an app….
So basically I didn’t understand a word the kids- or the teacher- said.
This led to very funny situations involving a lot of hands, drawings, running around and misunderstandings.
For a very verbal person like me- this was a revelation.
I ended up helping the teacher (wonderful vanessa- I hope all teachers were like her- such patience, quiet handling of the class that consisted of 20 very energetic young kids …I was privileged to help her!) cut cards, glue paper, wrap yarn, draw, help the kids with lunch, clean the class, watch over their free play , participate in soccer games , brush their teeth, and basically- just sit down and hug whoever was in a need of a hug at that moment.
And after the first day- when the kids got used to me- they took turns sitting on my laps- all the kids by the way- even the most shy ones- felt at ease with me after a few days- and whenever one of them was feeling a bit down or lonely or sad- he was immediately hugged and comforted, without many words involved.
So I didn’t end up thinking I saved the world from hunger , and I didn’t find a cure for cancer, nor did I save anything else.
Maybe, just maybe- a few kids had a better time in summer school because of me- and maybe- I was the only one that had a great time.
I don’t know.
I do know that volunteering for a few weeks and expecting to make a true difference- is something that may prevent the absolute and true joy of simply being there for someone else, maybe comforting one person, maybe helping one stray dog and maybe help a senior citizen clean his house or get a blanket. maybe just being with someone and sharing your good vibes with them is enough as a goal.
*by the way- in the afternoons I learned spanish with a great teacher named Alvaro in the Cambio spanish school. the income from cambio is donated to Ndg too. if you happen to go there do yourself a favour and ask specifically for him. and say hi from me. alvaro and I had some serious conversations about life, family, anger management, money, goal setting and veganism. (mostly) in spanish.
4. The co-coordinators at the office of NDG are truly wonderful -and I received a full explanation as to where the donation money was going.
I felt secure and safe in Antigua, my personal coordinator carlota was constantly in contact with me, showed me around, explained what needed explaining , took us to the jade museum, a cooking class and a chicken bus factory tour, and even offered me her personal gear when I told her I was going to climb the Acatenango!
The donation money -and this was definitely a question raised about some other organizations- was definitely not going to anyone besides the kids in the schools- the office is a small place, no one has a car- except for one- and it is an old truck used to drive to the schools and back.on the same note- please do not have any expectations to live in a hotel or anything like that. my homestay room was basic and simple, it was clean and the food was good -but again- basic. nothing fancy. I wasn’t expecting fancy and I liked my home stay . this is the room and the view from it:
Here is a link to the NDG site- take a look. Ninos De Guatemala
I think it is clear that providing proper education for kids who otherwise might wonder the streets or work in the fields- is the most efficient way to make a true and real impact.
This NGO has its heart and actions in the right place.
This was a truly wonderful experience for me.
It might be for you too- but please remember to be humble and realistic about this.
p.s -Antigua is a great place -many places to hang out (so I was told) and travel -read all about my hike up the Acatenango ! Hiking the acatenango volcano in guatemala- usefull tips for beginners