Although I believe that lately volunteering has gained some importance in the professional world, I think that is still not valued as it should be.
First of all, the sort of person that decides to volunteer tends to do so, at least in part, as the result of a critical attitude towards reality. This person not only realizes that there are things that should be changed, but also takes action to change them.
Furthermore, by choosing to be an international volunteer, a person shows the ability to make decisions that imply big changes in their environment and lifestyle.
So, we have strong individuals with determination and critical thinking skills.
But that’s only the beginning of the process.
Working in the social sector with at-risk groups requires that the individuals develop a series of social skills, and then that they raise these skills to a level of excellence. Skills such as overcoming frustration, conflict resolution and ability to empathize will be needed when working in situations of social exclusion, poverty, vulnerability or abuse.
Me and the kids during the bonfire workshop
Currently the majority of my time in Chile is spent working in the administration of VEGlobal, but I make a point to visit Mi Club Domingo Savio once a week. Every Thursday afternoon I make the hour and fifteen minute commute from the city center down to the little house on Tupungato Street where I lived last year, and where Steve lived 25 years ago.
Although my activities while at Domingo Savio can range from giving the youngest kids piggy-back rides to providing the 45 children with a modest once (a Chilean snacktime tradition that bears a strong resemblance to British tea-time), one constant factor of my experience is the struggle to implement a series of camping workshops that I lead with the children. For the last several months I have been implementing the workshops by myself, and while some days I am amazed at how well the kids behave themselves, other days leave me feeling as though I spent all my time stopping fights and did not actually manage to teach anything to anybody.
The workshop that I had planned for this past Thursday was the “bonfire workshop,” and I was eagerly looking forward to it. Given that the workshop not only allows the children to build a fire (in a controlled environment, of course), but also because it culminates in a marshmallow roasting session, this workshop is always a favorite with the kids and hence the group is usually much more manageable. I also knew that this Thursday I would have the help of Elliot Rosenberg, one of the current full-time volunteers, which further strengthened my confidence that the workshop would run smoothly (and safely).
As has become a common theme in my volunteer experience, things did not exactly go as planned. The group of 5 children was unusually rambunctious and even getting them to sit down together in our designated area took about 15 minutes longer than expected. I began to wonder if I had put too much sugar in the milk for once. (more…)