Working on the volunteer ground floor
I am used to being on the ground floor working with community development. In schools, institutes, and non-profits.
Therefore I dedicated a lot of my time in teaching and empowering children in low income communities to improve their opportunities. Due to my experiences, I have seen a lot of really great things get done. I do this type of work because it is incredibly gratifying to see the development of these children and communities. Community centers, vegetable gardens, and libraries were built and I´ve had students improve their grades, become leaders, and pass tests to study in universities abroad.
A different kind of volunteer work
As the Volunteer and Internship Coordinator at Proyecto Perú I no longer experience these things first hand. I take volunteers to projects, see the kids for about 10 minutes, and then head back to my office. It was a difficult adjustment for me at first, not being on site, talking through project coordinators to see how the projects advance. I would drop volunteers off and try to stay as long as I could to soak in the environment before I returned to my desk.
I learned to appreciate the work done in the projects from a distance. Instead of just working in one place, with 20-100 children, at Proyecto Perú I get to work with more than 30 different projects, that serve more than 1,000 children overall, give job training, measure and combat malnutrition for over 100 families and offer healthcare to people without health insurance. And also provide, besides help for humans, a home and opportunity for adoption for over 70 dogs.
In my 8 months here, we have had a project install a water collection system for a community without running water, we raised funds for, and installed computers in after school projects, created a sports field out of an abandoned yard. Also we painted murals, and donated thousands of dollars of materials to improve the infrastructure and teaching environments of various projects. While it might be hard to see the progress in just a few short months for individual volunteers, I get the benefit to see the impact of all their work over time.
Advice for volunteers
The advice I always give to our volunteers, is to be proactive and open-minded. Your experience is what you make of it. There are many projects that do not have the organizational structure to give volunteers constant supervision, therefore it is important that the volunteers see an opportunity to help, and react to it. When the volunteers do this, murals get painted, yards get fixed and made safe for children, learning materials get bought, fundraisers get created and carried out successfully, and the volunteers have a positive experience.
If a volunteer waits to be told how to be helpful, as a result, they usually feel underutilized. Volunteers need to be open-minded because the cultural differences are drastic in some circumstances. Children do not resect authority like they might in other places and projects might not have running water or electricity. Sanitary standards in medical projects would be completely unacceptable in the United States or Europe. Staff members at projects may be unhelpful or seem uninterested towards volunteers. If the volunteer can overcome these cultural shocks, the interchange with the beneficiaries of the project will be worthwhile.
Tyler Compere (Projects and Volunteer Coordinator)