(1) What is your favorite memory?
How do I choose one?!? I experienced so many wonderful things while in Chile from working in the orphanage (so many great memories of the kids!!) to traveling around. If I had to choose, my favorite memory would probably be my last day. The staff at the orphanage had bought foods for a going away lunch for me and presented me with presents they had made. It really touched my heart to know that they cared about me so much and I was so happy to hear that my work had not gone unnoticed and that they believed I made a difference. It was a tearful goodbye but incredibly meaningful.
(2) I was surprised that… the kids weren’t all orphans! Many have family who come to visit them often. The ‘orphanage’ is actually more like the foster care system in the U.S. Children may be removed from an abusive or unsafe home and taken to the orphanage where they will stay until their family is either rehabilitated, or they are adopted.
(3) The most difficult thing I experienced was… The adjustment to the fast pace of life at the orphanage. I came in thinking I would catch on within the first few hours since I had a lot of experience with kids. I quickly discovered there is a difference between being able to play with kids and being able to care for them and that the latter required a different skill set. There is something constantly happening and you have to be on your toes at all times. By the end of the first week, I had figured it out and was handling the pace but that first week sure was difficult!
(4) What was your best received lesson? I’m studying sociology as well as completing a program in social justice & poverty at my school and have been trained to think on a large scale. Working at the orphanage was all about the small picture. Instead of thinking about the social problems of abusive homes or malnutrition or poverty, I was focused on caring for the kids. At first I did not see how I was making a difference. After all, I wasn’t coming up with creative solutions to fix the kids problems, I was just taking care of them. By the end of my time there I came to realize that small scale actions are just as important.
(5) Tip for future volunteers
If you go during the U.S. summer, it will be winter in Chile. This means COLD weather and since there is no indoor heating, warm clothing is crucial.
I had the opportunity to do a lot of traveling while I was in Chile and had such a blast! There are plenty of hostels that are very nice and reasonably priced. There are also a lot of bus companies that can drive you from city to city (luggage and all!) for not much money at all. When I rode the bus from Los Andes to Valparaiso (3 hour ride), it only cost about $8 (U.S. dollars) one way. In La Serena, there is a company called ecotours that does tours in the area. Those are great to go on and a lot of fun! You’ll receive a brochure about it upon arrival.
In terms of donations, bringing art supplies or latex gloves would be a good thing. They use a lot of art stuff and we were constantly running out of gloves!
(6) Personal paragraph
I absolutely LOVED my time in Chile. Volunteering at the orphanage was hard work but so worth it. The kids were unbelievably precious and so easy to love. I did not want to leave them! The staff was amazing, accomplishing a lot with the little they were given. They made me feel very welcome and were great about helping me figure things out. This was definitely a summer well spent and my only regret is that I couldn’t stay longer.
(7) Describe your host home
My host home was great! My host mom made me feel so welcome and like I was a part of the family. She cooked AMAZING food and made sure I had everything I needed. When I was coming down with a cold, she even bought me medicine! Such a gracious lady and incredibly hospitable.
(8) Are you willing to speak to prospective volunteers?
Alison Volunteer in La Serena, Chile