I have always been interested in global development issues and after completing an MA course in International Development and Cultural Management, I decided to go overseas to volunteer with a not-for-profit organisation so I could build my experience and also get to know another country and culture in a more engaging way.
Although I knew I wanted to go to South America, I wasn’t sure what country to choose, but what I did know was that I wanted to give support in an office, as my course focused on research, project development and fundraising; after a long time researching and browsing organisations, I came across Otra Cosa Network, a local charity in the north west of Peru which offers volunteering opportunities through many different projects. After exchanging a few emails with the Operations Manager, I was accepted to go and stay there for a few months.
I started my volunteering in January 2012 and I knew I had chosen the right place as soon as I arrived there. On the first day, I attended an induction provided by the organisation. We were given information about their work and also a cultural awareness workshop; we ended the day going on a tour around the village and talking to other volunteers about their experiences. On the second day I went on a tour with other volunteers to see most of the different projects the organisation collaborates with. It was a wonderful experience as I had the chance to see amazing projects that were really making a difference in the communities.
My work in the office was very fulfilling as I got the chance to put into practice what I had learned in the course I had done the previous year and I felt I was really contributing to the improvement of the organisation. I enjoyed it so much that it did not feel like working to me so I started collaborating with another project in the evenings; working in the office was great but I also wanted to have the chance to get involved with the locals, so I started volunteering with the children of El Cerrito, a local community with very few resources. My job there was to look after the children and organise activities for them.
Apart from the work I did, living in that little village was eye opening and I can say I really had the chance to get to know the Peruvian culture quite well, along with their issues. Personally, working there made me realise I wanted to commit to community development, no matter where. I have always had an interest in development and I have participated in many local initiatives in Ireland, and also in Spain, where I am from. I had also travelled before to developing countries so I did not find it hard to adjust.
Volunteering overseas gives people the chance to exchange cultures and learn from each other. For volunteers, having the chance to work in another country doing something to help the community is a good way to gain awareness about development issues and also develop their own skills. In my opinion, the more people that travels overseas, the more chance the world has to become a fairer place.
The most important advice I can give to other future volunteers is to be open and flexible, and most importantly, to be willing to understand how people think; communication and mutual understanding is the key for a good exchange.
After I finished my volunteering in April’12, I went travelling around Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia for a few months. It was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had and along my trip I had the chance to visit other NGOs and community development projects.
Returning to Ireland was hard and it took a while to come back on earth again, but now, when I look back, I always get a smile on my face. I am sure that whole experience changed me for the better and I have kept engaged in development issues and the community sector.
Written by Roser Barcelo