Investing in people is important for all the world’s countries and particularly so for young people, who are afterall, any country’s greatest asset. Despite the good growth and low debt that Chile has enjoyed in recent years, child poverty in Chile is still very much an issue. There is a section of young peole in Chile who are in need of help that will ensure that their developmental trajectory is raised to lift them out of poverty and negative outcomes. Everyone contributes in their own way to this problem but we were particularly taken with the Voluntarios de la Esperanza when looking for a charity to support. If you would like to find out more about the kind of work that they do then please do jump over to their website. Here are a few excepts from their site to give you a flavour of their admirable mission:
VE Global (VE) recruits, trains and organizes volunteers worldwide to achieve our mission of fostering the positive development of children at social risk in Chile. VE has successfully integrated nearly 450 full-time volunteers from more than 35 countries into our network of eight local social service organizations including: children’s shelters, community centers and schools in the most vulnerable neighborhoods of Santiago.
VE Global volunteers can have a truly transformational experience working with the children in our community. The work our volunteers do and the relationships they create develop valuable skills that serve them long after they leave VE. Our volunteers are more than just an extra set of hands at the organizations we serve—they actively and positively change the way that hundreds of children experience the world.
With an average on-the-ground presence of 25 full-time volunteers and four dedicated staff members, VE provides more than 70,000 hours of volunteer support each year and serves more than 300 children daily. Through this work, VE strives to contribute to a brighter future both for the children it serves and the volunteers that work with them, a goal achieved by training volunteers to become educators and role models that serve children both now and into the future.
Founded as Voluntarios de la Esperanza in 2004, VE Global has grown from a few volunteers living and working in La Florida’s Fundacion Hogar Esperanza to an average on the ground community of 35 volunteers who work in 8 distinct institutions. Since its inception, VE Global has received more than 300 volunteers from 35 countries and five continents.
Volunteers began arriving at Hogar Esperanza in 1999. Seeing a profound mutual impact on his children and volunteers, the orphanage’s director, Jorge Daveggio, continued to accept volunteers from the United States, France, Germany, England, and Canada. Each socially conscious young adult brought his/her experiences, talents, and love to Santiago and thus contributed to the orphanage’s theme of esperanza or hope for its children. These volunteers normally found the orphanage through their own means, so there were gaps of time without a volunteer presence.
In September and October of 2003, however, several volunteers arrived with overlapping stays. With the larger group, the volunteers were able to better organize their work and even combine their efforts to initiate larger projects. As the director lacked time and English language ability, one of the new arrivals took charge of volunteer recruiting in order to maintain a more constant influx of the valuable international help. Utilizing the Internet, Luke Winston discovered a surprisingly large interest from foreign volunteers to live and work in an orphanage, an interest much larger than Hogar Esperanza itself could support.
VE received its first volunteers, Jen Hendlisz and Ilana Osten, in 2004. These dedicated volunteers not only became part of the Hogar Esperanza family, but created a support base for subsequent volunteers. Winston, along with the founding group of Chilean volunteers known as “El Equipo”, guided and supported incoming volunteers and provided a continuous presence in an organization that was constantly changing with new volunteers from around the world.
Through his time as a volunteer, Luke recognized that several other institutions in Santiago had similar goals but much fewer resources. As a result of the disparity between these institutions, the idea of VE was born in the hope of using volunteers as a resource to bring equal opportunities to all children. In the world of social work, a foundation cannot be selfish; an excess resource should be shared whether it is food, money, or volunteer work. Therefore, VE searched for like-minded institutions that worked to form a family environment for the abandoned and abused children for which they cared.
VE Global provides a unique insider’s road to a life changing volunteer experience because it was created by and is currently run by volunteers who have lived and worked in the institutions. By working in a South American nation like Chile, the motivated young adults who compose this multi-national group of volunteers not only change the lives of the children they help but are themselves changed by an intense experience and new insights only an international adventure can provide. After their stay, volunteers remain a part of the new families they discover and return to their own countries to apply their new perspectives on life.
Below are some examples the volunteers have shared in the past:
As I sit in my apartment and glance at the slowly deflating balloon animals (that I have been trying to teach myself how to tie) piled up in the corner, I wonder how I could ever go back to what’s considered a normal life? How can I wake up and not look forward to a day of colouring in, making funny faces, swinging the kids around as they yell “¡Levante me!”, hugs, kisses, and a daily smack from 5 year old Pamela* that I still am not quite sure what I did to deserve?
Volunteering has definitely been a rollercoaster of events. From the first steep incline of fear and anticipation when arriving here and not having a clue what to expect. To flying down the other side with a big smile on my face, hands in the air, just letting go and waiting to see where the ride takes me. I can now say I have been through the loops, twists and sometimes sharp turns of day to day life as a volunteer and it’s without a doubt one of the best rides I have been on.
The Sharp Turn – Getting an annoyed look from a child or Tío as they try to explain something important to me and I respond with what looks like an elaborate game of charades while attempting to use a horribly butchered version of Spanglish. Eventually they give up and say to me ” Tío, tu no entiende nada,” which is ironic because I understand that sentence perfectly: ”you don’t understand anything.” Maybe that’s what the daily smack is for?
The Loop – When one of the kids, who for some reason or another has been opposed to your very presence/existence since day one, finally has a change of heart. Some amazing moment when the universe aligns, the sun shines through the clouds and you are there for them when they need you and from that point forward you both have been changed from arch rivals to the best of friends, wondering how it was ever the other way around?
The Twist – It was a little while ago now but we were helping plant vegetables in the garden out the front. There were limited gardening tools, and one of the boys was hogging the use of the shovel. Paulina* whose turn it was next grew impatient at Mateo’s* reluctance to give her the shovel. A small fight started and as Paulina tried to take the shovel by force, she unfortunately ended up with a hit to the back with it. Previous to this day every time a child was upset they would go to the long term Tíos, often running straight past me in the process. As the tears started to well in Paulina’s eyes she ran straight to me and I picked her up and comforted her. This was definitely a highlight considering the long term Tío was only a metre or so further away. I never thought I would be so happy that a child would be hit with a shovel (luckily she wasn’t badly hurt!).
After pulling up in a taxi yesterday morning for an 18 hour day (Christmas Party), the kids screaming our names out from behind the fence, I realized the months have flown by and every day has been filled with countless moments like the ones above, bringing me closer to the children and staff here, but also bringing me closer to finishing here too. Even though I still “no entiendo nada” I know that as soon as I get off this ride, I will be lining back up for the next one.
At the beginning of December I was finding it hard to get into the Christmas spirit in Chile. One reason is the fact that it is so hot and sunny, nothing like the English winters I always associate with the festive season. It also felt strange being away from my family and our normal traditions, as well as the craziness surrounding Christmas you get at home, with all the adverts, TV shows and shops obsessing over how to achieve the perfect Christmas day.
Here in Chile it is a lot more relaxed but I am loving doing Christmas in a simpler way. Last week we made decorations and Christmas cookies with the boys. The cooking taller especially was pretty stressful, we had no cookie cutters so Jess and I were desperately trying to draw shapes on the dough for all the boys as they argued over who got to cut out what and whose Christmas tree was better. It was worth the effort though because they enjoyed doing it and were proud of their creations.
On Saturday we went shopping and bought small gifts for the boys, which I cannot wait to give them on Christmas Eve. In contrast to children at home, the boys do not seem overly excited about Christmas and they certainly have not written long letters to Santa about all the presents they want. On Christmas Eve some of the volunteers are cooking a meal together so Jess and I have a choice between that or going to the Christmas party at our hogar. It was an easy decision for both of us. I feel lucky that I get to spend Christmas with the boys I have grown so close to over the last four months and hopefully, by showing them how much I love and care about them, make it a special time for them.
Safia Mizon Thioune
“Don’t come to VE with any set expectations, because your experience will inevitably be different.” This sound advice from a VE member – and something which I would also be inclined to reiterate to potential volunteers myself – was surprisingly easy to heed: I had never done anything quite like VE before and, despite feeling excited and anxious in equal measure, I had little idea of what to expect from my five months here.
It’s now been almost a month since I landed in Chile and, while it feels like I’ve been here much longer in some ways, I’m amazed at how quickly the days go. The first week was spent in a hostel, getting to know the other volunteers, exploring the city that we’re living in and learning a little bit more about the institutions with which we’re working. I have since moved into an apartment, started my work at the hogar, and have settled into something of a daily routine.
Although I’m getting used to it by the day, starting work as a volunteer has definitely had its ups and downs. The hard bits have ranged from minor blips (such as pouring pineapple juice into my coffee instead of milk, much to the tías’ glee) to slightly more trying times which include getting lost on the way to the hogar and finding myself on the other side of the city. The biggest challenge, however, has presented itself with the children. Co-dependency between child and volunteer is not highly encouraged at the hogar where I work and, although this is only for practical purposes, not being able to comfort a little boy and give him a hug when he is crying has yet to not make me wince. There have been many good bits, however: being included in the joking and bantering between the tías, despite my broken Spanish; receiving a beam and a hug from a child who, only a few days before, would have either pinched or ignored me; and, although only a small victory, being able to successfully identify the juice from the milk carton.
If you would like to make a donation vistit the VE Global support page. Perhaps you would like to volunteer with VE Global and gain experience living and working in Chile! If so, check out their FAQ added below and consider submitting an application to volunteer with VE Global. Remember to direct your questions to them but by all means feel free to comment below.
Where can I volunteer with VE Global?
At this moment, the only possibility is to work within the city of Santiago, Chile. In the future, we hope to expand our scope of action.
Do I get paid for volunteering with VE Global?
No, we do not currently have the resources to pay our volunteers. However, we provide small stipends to our directors and coordinators. The only fully paid position in VE Global is the Executive Director.
How much time will I work weekly?
An intensive volunteer works approximately 40 hours, developing full and essential relationships with the children and participating in VE committees and projects. Volunteers work, on average, 30 hours a week in an institution and 10 hours a week on VE projects. Volunteers in other roles, such as coordinators, have varying schedules and frequently split their time between the office and their institutions.
What kind of work will I do?
Volunteers’ day-to-day tasks vary greatly depending on the institutions in which they work. In general, volunteers provide support in childcare, education, mentoring and administration. Tasks can involve cooking, cleaning, bathing, helping the children with their homework, diaper changing, etc. Volunteers working with teenagers will spend some of their time leading activities such as sports, playing cards, or art projects. One of the main jobs of the volunteers is, however, to be a friendly presence for the children and serve as someone to talk to or just hang out with.
In addition to their work in the institutions, each volunteer is assigned to a committee where he can develop existing projects or propose and implement new ones. The duties within a committee vary greatly from committee to committee, but always involve attendance of bi-weekly meetings and participation in the projects specific to that committee. Volunteers on the Resource Development Committee, for example, might work on putting together that month’s newsletter, or help organize an event to kick off VE’s annual fundraising campaign.
When will I start working?
Once your application has been approved, will join one of our volunteer classes. Three times each year we welcome our a new class of volunteers in September, January, and May with an Orientation Week. During this week you will meet the other volunteers, learn how VE Global functions, receive training on working with children at social risk, and discover the environment in which you will be living and working. Your work in your institution and on your VE committee begins after your Orientation Week is completed.
What’s a day in the life of a volunteer like? (Hogar San Francisco de Regis)
“We turn up at 10am and wait with the older girls for the Tia in charge of their educational needs to arrive. Once she has arrived we all head upstairs to the study rooms where we help the girls complete their homework whilst chatting and having a laugh. Sometimes they don’t need our help at all but we make sure that we keep on chatting in Spanish so they can join in. Monday mornings, and sometimes other days, we end up going to the dentist’s where the girls go every week. There we have to try and stop girls who’ve been waiting for hours from going mad and wreaking havoc, then pick them up off the floor where they’re having a tantrum, or hold their hand as they have a tooth extracted. Post-dentist we have to drop the girls back at the hogar or at school.
Around lunch time we get a moment to have a cup of tea and chat with the kitchen staff before going to collect some girls from one school and escort them back to the hogar. We eat lunch with the tias as the younger girls (11 and under) arrive and then spend time with them playing or hanging out until Tia Lily arrives to start homework time. There’s pretty much always something to help out with here, because a lot of the girls have difficulty with school work, and it can also be the most rewarding because you may be the only one who’s ever told them they’re intelligent and show them that they can do their work for themselves – and then see how proud they are when it turns out well, or they suddenly understand something! It can also be frustrating because the room gets noisy and hectic, and when the girls don’t have homework they like to play endless Mario Bros games on the computer.
Once is at 5pm and then they wolf down some bread and a drink and either go back to finishing work (or starting it for the girls in middle school who haven’t long been back). At this point things tend to be craziest because it’s the end of the day, they’re putting their work behind them, and all the girls are hanging out together whatever their age and fondness for each other (or lack thereof…).
At 6pm we stumble out of the hogar tired and dazed, grab a sopaipilla and discuss what went on, have a laugh about things and go home to scrub off the paint/snot/dirt stains, check for head lice and have a cold beer.
(Also some days, which are never told to you in advance, other women volunteers come in and throw birthday parties for the girls during Once. This normally means lots of sweets and cake and the girls normally go a little crazy. It´s fun to play, eat cake and sing along with them. However, if you had any activities planned for after Once and a party happens to crop up, you might as well move the taller till the next day or week. The girls are normally too hyped up on sugar to actually want to work at this point, so to ease your frustration, just go ahead and make it for another day.)”