Last night we finished working with our second service project. The Co-Founder of Corazón de Dahlia, Señora Laura left us with a heartening speech where she told us to remember and never forget what we saw here in Saylla, and that we can all do our part for the children in Peru. Señora Laura spoke with such passion and love that everyone felt moved. On the bus ride back to Cusco I began to reflect on my role here and the future role I can play while living back in the United States. Working with these children made me understand many aspects of their daily lives and how much they enjoy the activities implemented by organizations like Abre Puertas and Corazón De Dahlia. These two social programs exceeded my expectations with their devoted professional staff, passionate volunteers, regional and international outreach, and the number of participants they serve. These programs are essential for the children living in the working-class communities of Coya and Saylla because the parents don’t have the luxury of time to be home. Sometimes parents from these far-out communities work before sunrise to after sunset, and the children are left without care and supervision. I had the honor of talking personally with Ellyn from Abre Puertas and Señora Laura from Corazon De Dahlia about their opinions about volunteers and how we can improve our approach. They both expressed how each volunteer is unique in their way, and their strengths and weakness highly vary. However, both shared the same concern on how many volunteers’ expectations didn’t coincide with their reality. Another questioned asked centered on what makes a volunteer significant? They both answered with the same word: Attitude.
I’ve been actively volunteering within my communities since I was 15 years old. I grew up in an underprivileged neighborhood in the U.S where we relied on volunteers in social programs to expand our horizons, and because of my experience, I view volunteering as a civic duty. For the past two years, I worked for the Center for Civic Engagement on campus as a Volunteer Ambassador. My role consisted primarily of assisting any walk-in students trying to navigate the volunteer process in Binghamton. I was able to gain a well-rounded understanding of the service organizations in the surrounding area and grasp the needs of the community. In our classroom reflection session this past Friday, we revisited in- depth the theme of our role as volunteers in a developing country and our impacts on these children and their communities. We mentioned how volunteers’ perspectives differ when they fail to acknowledge their privilege and as a result approach volunteering with a savior complex. We emphasized how fruitful and significant the women-empowerment workshops for young girls in Corazón De Dahlia was because it will have a lasting impression on the confidence of those young girls. We agreed later on that the women-empowerment program should become an annual event and briefly mentioned the possibility of a male empowerment workshop to encourage and support young boys as well. We are targeting these types of events because they’re more impactful on a long-term scale. We reevaluated how to engage with the children, our responsibilities once we are on site, and we reshaped our attitude towards of civic engagement aboard.
We must acknowledge each role’s responsibility, from the organization, the volunteer and the requested task to complete a successful service project. Volunteers who understand their expectations will allow for more independent research beforehand and an open-minded attitude on site at the service project. Volunteering is mutual benefit scenarios where both sides receive a new wealth of knowledge. We must avoid any feelings of pity and survivor’s guilt because people do not want to be looked down upon instead we should appreciate their values and customs to truly immerse ourselves within their communities. I truly believe attitude is the biggest contributor to a volunteers approach. Both Señora Laura and Ellyn emphasized that the attitude of the volunteer is the determining factor in how they perform. Ellyn from Abre Puertas said, “I had volunteers who didn’t speak Spanish be more interactive with the kids than volunteers who were fluent Spanish speakers.” The attitude of a volunteer will influence their reliability, their expectations, and level of engagement and/or productivity at the service sites. Volunteers should approach every service project with an upbeat, ready to go with the flow attitude to fully immerse themselves in the experience.