As I said in a previous post, working with so many young and talented volunteers has been inspiring. I decided to conduct a survey for some more insight into why they chose to volunteer in Honduras. I received 11 responses from current and past volunteers. Their answers were honest and heartfelt, and I’ve had a hard time condensing them since they are all so well-written. As a result, this will be a long post, but I think it’s worth hearing their words. (Note that some of the respondents included their names while others chose to remain anonymous.)
Why do you volunteer?
Not surprisingly, many chose to volunteer because they like kids and want to make a difference in the world. Shofna, 32, believes that through education we can help break the cycle of poverty. Rikke Soendergaard, 34, who was the first project manager for HCA in 2010 wrote about how El Porvenir became her second home and she felt as if she were adopted by the community: “Riding crammed together in the back of a pickup truck while watching the beautiful mountains. Watching the the faces of children learning new things. Greeting all our neighbors when walking by. Hearing a parent saying thank you for what we do for the kids. Experiencing the urge to learn from the local kids, teens, adults. Learning new things about Honduran culture and society all the time. Listening to the fascinating life stories of local friends. Feeling part of an amazing and welcoming community.”
Rafael, 21, from Brazil didn’t know how to explain to his friends and family why he was coming to Honduras. After three weeks here, however, he realized that he enjoys sharing what little he can with the children and knowing that they are always eagerly waiting for the next activity.
Others wrote of more practical reasons for volunteering, such as improving Spanish and gaining experience for future careers.
I must say I agree with Harrison, 18, who said “it seemed like a great way to travel.” For me, I volunteer for all of the reasons above, but also for the reality that it is a cheap way to travel and get to know a new culture.
Whatever their reasons for volunteering, it was clear to me that volunteers from diverse backgrounds all found a connection with each other for having made the choice to come to El Porvenir.
Why did you choose to volunteer with Honduras Child Alliance?
Voluntourism is now a big money-making industry. Many volunteers have been criticized for doing more harm than good in the communities they visit. It can be difficult to find an organization that is not out to make money at the expense of the local community, as well as finding a project that really can have a positive impact. Working with children adds another layer of complexity to the issue. Is it right to develop attachments with children only to leave them after a few weeks or months? I wrote about some of these issues in a post last year while volunteering in Nepal and will certainly be writing more about it in the future.
HCA is powered by volunteers from around the world and expects much from them. The volunteers I met had all explored other opportunities, but we all ended up at HCA. Here’s why.
Some volunteers liked that HCA is not a religious organization. As Eve Horowitz, the founder of HCA said in a recent newsletter, “we believe that our diversity is our greatest strength as we welcome volunteers from many countries, from any faith, without bias about sexual orientation or ethnic background.”
Many mentioned that HCA is quick to respond, clearly communicated their expectations, and is a very well-organized program compared to others like it. Nathan, 20, from the US described the organization as “no-nonsense.” Also, as Benjamin, 20, from Austria said, “they don’t charge you a fortune which means they actually want and need your help and not just your money.” After researching several other places, Rafael knew within five minutes of contacting HCA that this would be the right fit for him: “I didn’t have an obvious or objective reason for choosing HCA, I just knew that this was the place I wanted to go.”
Above all, the respondents felt that HCA really is making a difference in the community and will continue to do so for many years to come. “Together, working side by side, it feels like we can make almost anything happen!” (Rikke)
What are the hardest and best things about your volunteer experience?
Volunteering at HCA is challenging, but there are many rewards. With new volunteers coming and old ones leaving every week, communication between volunteers was listed as one of the challenges. Other challenges include witnessing the poverty the children live in up close, not being able to do more to help the children, keeping up with the energetic kids in the Honduran heat, having a class not go as expected, challenging behaviors from students and leaving at the end of the experience.
Of course, there is no shortage of the rewards of volunteering at HCA. These include: learning about a new culture, trying different foods, working with other volunteers from around the world, playing games with the kids and seeing the appreciation of the students and families. Clare, 62, used the skills she gained in Honduras to continue volunteering with refugees and migrants in Calais, France.
As a teacher, I can identify with what Nathan wrote: “When a class goes to plan and you can see that everyone is enjoying themselves while doing educational activities, it’s a very rewarding feeling.” And we would all agree with what Lukas, 24, from Germany said: “Seeing kids running towards you, shouting your name and smiling, because they will spend time with you.”
What do you wish other people understood about what you are doing?
I asked this question because I know how impossible it is to fully convey the experience of living and volunteering in another culture to friends and family who have never done it. This is not to say that everyone should do this, just that it’s a challenge to really get the point across. There was a wide range of responses.
“To begin with if only they knew what Honduras was. Most haven’t even heard of the country.”
“I think they do understand – there is so much human misery in the world.” (Clare, 62)
“This is not a holiday. All the volunteers work very hard. It can be physically and emotionally tiring and incredibly rewarding.” (Shofna, 32)
“I wish they could see poverty first hand. They complain about the most trivial of things, it would be good for them to see part of the world.” (Harrison, 18)
“That this is actual work. We are not just hanging around and sometimes teaching a casual class. We are taking our work serious. We prepare a lot of stuff, we make sure everything is ready, we plan additional events, it’s great and fun, but it is serious work. I used to work 40 hours a week at my old job. I am sure I am above that easily now.” (Benjamin, 20)
“The kids appreciate us.”
“It is more than just educating. It is about building relationships.” (Lukas, 24)
“I wish they understood my motivations for being here. If that is understood, then I know I have their support.” (Nathan, 20)
“Que não vim pra este trabalho voluntario para acabar com a pobreza no mundo, mas sim para tentar transmitir o pouco do que sei. Mudar minha mentalidade para uma versao menos distorcida do mundo e de alguma maneira tentar transmitir toda esta experiencia para aqueles que queiram ouvir.” (Rafael, 21) My rough translation from Portuguese: “I didn’t volunteer to try to end poverty in the world, but to try to teach the little that I know. To change my mentality to a less distorted view of the world and to somehow convey this entire experience to those who want to listen.”
“I’m not trying to save the world. I do this because I get satisfaction from it and love the experience of embedding myself as much as possible into another culture.” (Tim, 51)
When I left Honduras and traveled to Guatemala for a few days last week, I met a group of expats living there who seemed to have a very negative opinion of all the volunteer groups that are constantly cycling through their town. I took the opportunity to explain that not all volunteer organizations are the same, and neither are all volunteers. I am happy that I chose to volunteer with Honduras Child Alliance and will use them as a standard as I seek out new opportunities for volunteering in the coming year.