There are many things that you can donate to those in need: your shoes, your clothes, food, used electronics, money. While these material items are sure to help individuals and families in need, donating your time contributes not only to the experience you are aiming to help but to your own life as well. After graduating from College I decided to donate my time and skills to an organization whose message I felt aligned with. In my time working with the organization, there were several things I learned about myself and the voulnteer experience that I would like to share. If you decide to volunteer in South America and are in search of the opportunity of contributing positive change to underserved populations, the following suggestions you should absolutely consider before embarking on the journey.
Talk the Talk
When volunteering in South America, and working with vulnerable populations, it is valuable for you to be able to communicate with the populations you are working with. While there are many languages spoken across racial and tribal groups in South America, there are four official languages in South America: Spanish, Portuguese, French and Dutch. Of the twelve countries in South America, nine have the official language of Spanish.
Learning any of these four languages will enable you to communicate more effectively with the populations you work with, however, if you decide to learn Spanish, you will be able to communicate in more countries. This will be helpful to you if you choose to volunteer in more than one country, or if you would like to travel after your volunteer experience.
In order to be able to communicate with the populations you are working with well, in Spanish, you will need more than just the basic vocabulary. Hello, goodbye, and your color palette and where the bathroom is are sure to be helpful for basic communication. But if you are truly looking to improve the lives of the populations you are working with, a more advanced understanding of the language is invaluable.
Expanish can give you the vocabulary necessary to communicate effectively during your volunteer experience. Regardless of if you are learning Spanish from scratch or looking to brush up on your skills, Expanish offers classes which can help you at any stage of your learning experience. To gain the basic skills, engage in a 20-hour intensive course, which will give you the basic conversational skills you need. These courses are organized in a way which ensures that you will be able to speak Spanish from the very first day! In addition, taking private lessons is would be helpful to learn the jargon of the specific volunteer experience you are seeking. Private lessons offer the chance to specify your learning goals with your professor.
Walk the Walk
If you are planning on donating your time, it is equally important for you to choose a volunteer experience where you feel you can grow, learn and enjoy your time. There are many volunteer opportunities, and many sites which allow you to compare and contrast the experiences offered by organizations across the continent.
In order to truly give your best self in dedication to the populations you serve, it is essential that you know which population it will be, and how you can truly serve! There are many volunteer programs which offer good photo opportunities, or the chance to have a small conversation with a local. If you are truly hoping to make a change, it is essential that you find a program which offers the opportunity to leave an impact and genuine interactions. While part of this depends on your program choice, a large part also depends on you making the right choice for your interests.
Where will you walk?
While deciding what country you will serve in plays a large roll in your experience, the type of organization you will volunteer with is also very important. This requires a certain amount of introspection. Would you like to work with an organization focused on improving precarious living situations? Would you like to work with children and teach English? Or work in a food pantry which offers meals to those who need it? It is best to volunteer with an organization that serves a population that is close to your heart, and in that way, you will be able to put your heart into your work.
How will you walk?
Once you have decided what organization you would like to volunteer with, you will have to decide how you will work with them. Social organizations, non-profits, and NGO’s often offer a variety of volunteer experiences in different areas. For example, if you have experience in accounting, there are many organizations which would appreciate your contributions. If you have experience in politics, many organizations benefit from political advocacy advising. If you are still finding your stride, and what you do best, your sheer ability to work will help many organizations who are low on funds and unable to hire personnel to achieve all the work which needs to be done.
Volunteering in South America is sure to be a wonderful experience for you. In order to make the most of the time you donate, it is essential that you use resources which enable you to find the perfect organization and task for you. If you find an organization which brings you joy, you will be able to dedicate your full heart to the task, and if you learn to speak the language, you will be able to communicate this joy!