Have you wanted to make a difference while living abroad?
I had a unique opportunity to do so when I found myself with an unexpected gap of time before I started school again. Becoming an extended volunteer for A Child’s Hope Foundation, an organization that my brother had volunteered with in the past, seemed like the perfect fit! I was surprised by how easy it was to get started. They were very flexible, and I left for Mexico in mid-October of 2019. I stayed until a little after Christmas time, making my trip a total of two and a half months. It was an incredible experience that I will never forget!
My main responsibility at the orphanage was to help teach English to both the kids and staff. I also helped with other projects such as serving breakfast each morning and taking the kids out on fun weekend trips for hiking, going to the movies, visiting the zoo, or just eating out someplace. Being an extended volunteer was an indescribable experience. It was awesome to see the children’s progress with the language! When I first got there no one tried to speak in English, but by the time I left many of them had started to because they were so excited to be communicating in another language.
I was especially proud of two of the children, Jonathan and Jesus. Jonathan’s mother had taught him a little bit of English previously, which meant he was able to help others in the class. He struggled in holding a conversation but had excellent reading skills. Jesus had been fairly fluent in English previous to my arrival but had never been taught how to read. Seeing this as an opportunity, I had them read books and practice with each other outside of class, which resulted in tremendous improvement.
As an Extended Volunteer, you are able to form strong connections with the people around you. I remember a time when I was with one of the teenage boys and they offered me dinner. I had eaten there before but I replied telling them that I didn’t want to intrude. They answered saying, “You are not just a guest here, you are family,” and everyone agreed. At the orphanage, I did not just make friends, I made family. I was very close with the teenage boys and the staff at the orphanage. They were always trying to help me with my Spanish, which I definitely appreciated since I had arrived in Mexico as a beginner in the language. One time after watching the movie Nacho Libre they explained that the word chancho means “piggy”. After making lots of jokes, the house family and I all ended up with funny nicknames that we would sometimes use. I was “Chancho Mexicano” because I had proved to them that I was Mexican by eating hot peppers and salsa. Carlos, the house dad, was “Papa Chancho,” his son Carlitos was “Chanchito,” and his infant son Christian was “Chanchitititito.” Sometimes we would even sing baby Christian’s nickname the way they do in the song “Un Poco Loco” from the Disney movie Coco. Before I left I received a shirt that the whole house had signed.
For future volunteers, I would recommend you be in your room as little as possible and always take the opportunity to hang out with the kids. Even the smallest things make the best memories and make the trip worth it. Most short-term volunteers do group activities, so it is important as well to do things in smaller groups with the kids so that they can have individual attention and love.
I knew I was going to love hanging out with the kids and having fun with them, but something I didn’t consider was how much I was going to miss them. Leaving was by far the most difficult part of my entire trip. I specifically remember saying “goodbye” to a girl named Dafne as she was holding me crying, asking why I had to leave and saying how much she was going to miss me. I had built a meaningful relationship with the kids and saying goodbye to something like that was so hard. That’s why I still keep in contact as best as I can and I plan to visit again soon. I am so grateful for the time I spent in Mexico and for the memories I made. I would encourage anyone else to take the opportunity to do so, too!