Our international partners accomplish amazing things with volunteers. Read their stories.
Volunteer assistance is critical to enabling our international partners to create change in their communities. Many of them have shared the work they were able to accomplish with the help of international volunteers. Read their stories below.
The ups and downs of working at San Fran print story
March 17, 2012
VE Global, Chile
Wednesday February 22nd was Carnaval--the kids’ prize for completing their summer reading goals during ¡Vamos a Leer! It was a fun day of games, limbo, lunch, and pool time in La Florida. It was fun to get to meet all the kids (all hogares came to the event) because most volunteers talk about their kids as if they were their own. I was dying to meet Tom and Katie's little ¨gringo¨ Andres* and put a face to all the stories, and the younger kids from Casa de Guaguas. It was a really good day, mostly because our San Fran girls (that’s short for San Francisco de Regis the hogar where I volunteer) were soooooo excited to go and it was nice to celebrate their accomplishments.
I have now been volunteering at San Fran for a month and a half. I went into this experience with all the training and consejos from veteran volunteers I could have possibly asked for. But working with girls that have been sexually abused has proven a bigger test to my emotional stamina than I initially expected. I expected the girls to act out, to be difficult, and to not accept me al tiro(chilean slang for "right away"), but never did I expect the name-calling and sour attitudes to get me down the way it did. It was difficult to listen to fellow volunteers talk about how much they loved their work when I came home each day feeling deflated after putting in a hundred and ten percent.
Luckily every Tuesday, we have a weekly VE meeting that is usually a seminar or continued education training that reminds me the frustrations I am feeling are, indeed, normal. Whenever I am feeling down about San Fran these meetings come at the perfect time. Benedicte's presentation on a style of behavior management called "Collaborative Problem Solving" and Meghan's talk on the developmental issues of sexually abused children not only gave me more techniques to deal with the girls, but also encouraged me to be patient. The trauma they have experienced in their early lives is like a recurring nightmare that has stunted their growth and makes everyday life that bit more difficult. Cognizant of this, the least I can do is have patience. At San Fran, this means when I come into work and greet each girl with a kiss on the cheek, I know to wait for Sandra* and Belen* to come to me. Trial and error has taught me that approaching them first gets you a cold shoulder and annoyed "Tiaaaaaa!!"
After working at San Fran for 6 weeks, it certainly is not easy per se, but something has significantly changed: the girls trust me. I was so caught up in how I was feeling that I failed to consider that perhaps these girls have been failed by adults so many times in their young lives that, yes, it is hard to trust the people that are supposed to love and protect them. I started to understand just how much they have been failed as I watched an 8-year-old cry hysterically as she was told for the third consecutive week in a row that her mommy would not be coming to visit her. I often wonder how girls can turn out normal in such a chaotic living environment. I have respect for girls like 15-year-old Amanda* who is so mature and calm in an environment that I cannot say I would be able to stand myself. While volunteering at San Fran is certainly not all rainbows and butterflies, I have learned to focus on the positives like the fact that my relationships with the girls are strengthening and girls I thought I could never get through to have started to show me a softer, more vulnerable side, like when Belen let me talk to her when she ran off crying in the bathroom. Even small breakthroughs are reasons to celebrate and make getting through the day a little easier. In the low moments I remind myself that my job--giving the girls hugs and a shoulder to lean on, helping them with their homework, taking them to psychologist appointments--show them that they are worth it. Though it tests me on a daily basis, I am up for the challenge of San Fran.
*names have been changed