Name: devina kaur Hometown: Montreal, Canada Project/country: Holiday Program / Guatemala
1. What made you want to volunteer abroad during the holidays?
I have always loved volunteering and helping others. I decided to combine my love for helping others with my love for travel and adventure. Every new place is a new experience. I also wanted to step out of my own comfort zone to evolve as a human being.
2. What made you choose Guatemala?
Guatemala is a country rich in culture, biodiversity and ecological gifts. I decided to use my time to travel as close to Canada (my home) as possible. My time frame was limited, as I am a full-time, single mother, so I had to choose based on her holiday schedule.
3. How do you usually celebrate the holidays?
In previous years, I worked through the holidays, because they are a lonely time for me. My parents live overseas and my 8-year old daughter spends the holidays with her father who lives in another city. I am all by myself in Montreal, so sometimes I spend the holidays with friends and help out at local events. This year, I chose to participate in an organized international volunteer program.
4. How many projects have you been able to visit?
Thanks to Maximo Nivel, I was able to spend time working in three different orphanages, harvesting coffee on an organic farm, and helping with various organizations on a number of other projects.
5. What has been your specific role at each project?
My role, specifically, on the farm was to help harvest the coffee. The coordinators and instructors taught us what to do, and shortly after I went out into the field to try out my new skills. One of my jobs at the orphanage was hanging out laundry to dry. It sounds simple, but imagine 50 little children whose “daily” laundry needs to be hung to dry. It took 2 hours to hang all the laundry. I have a housekeeper back home and have never hung clothes to dry–this is what I mean by stepping out of your comfort zone. For some, line-drying clothes in the sun is a simple chore, but I was rather proud of this accomplishment. It’s the simplicity that makes it more enjoyable.
6. Do you feel like volunteers who commit at least a week at one project are making a direct impact on the community?
Yes, definitely. There is no right amount of time to volunteer. There is no right or wrong way to help others. Helpfulness is in everyone’s nature. Anyone can help someone, even if it’s just for a minute, and I am happy to donate the time I have, because time is the most precious commodity.
7. How did you feel about changing projects every few days during this program?
I personally enjoyed the change because it gave me a fresh perspective on a different way of life. I have to admit the early morning starts were a challenge and quite different than my usual routine, but I adapted quickly to the new circumstances and part of volunteering abroad is immersing ourselves in different situations and circumstances. I feel the volunteers get the most out of this experience. We learned so much from our hosts, the very people we set out to help. I can’t help but want to share this experience and go back again. I can’t wait.
8. Have you ever volunteered before (either abroad or back home)?
Yes, throughout my life. In my Punjabi culture, we refer to volunteer as seva: we are raised to help where we can. Volunteering is not always about donating money. It is also about: time, blood, sweat, etc.
9. Have you learned anything interesting during your project? (e.g a new skill, interesting facts)
It was my first time in Guatemala. I’m happy to say yes! I used to be a primary school teacher, but I forgot what it was like to be surrounded by young children. I really enjoyed making a real connection with a lot of the children. There was this 3-year old girl called Daniella. She just wanted to sit on my lap and cuddle, and I couldn’t have been happier. My mind often wanders to Daniella. She’s such an affectionate girl and we all need affection.
10. What do you get out of volunteering, if anything?
Since my recent volunteer experience, I have chosen to practice more gratitude. I look at my life and feel fortunate for everything I have, including my health.
11. Would you recommend volunteering to others?
Absolutely, my family (ie my daughter) and I are planning to volunteer overseas together. This is something we have been looking into.
12. At what age do you think someone should start their first volunteer project?
During my volunteer experience, I met a lot of people, including Gaby and Ashley and others, some of which were fresh out of high school volunteering for a 6-month period. As I listened to their stories, I felt incredibly awed and empowered, and I hope to be able to encourage my 8-year old to volunteer with me during her next school holiday.
13. Would you recommend this specific holiday program to others?
Yes, definitely. It is a great journey towards self-discovery. Through volunteer abroad program, we face unusual circumstances in a foreign country and in the end it comes down to how quickly we, the volunteers, adapt to new ever changing circumstances. The biggest gift is the feeling of giving back and to know we can make a difference even in the smallest of ways.
14. What has been your experience with your host family?
I stayed at Olga’s home. Part of the fun was hanging out with the other guests present at the volunteer house. I met so many incredible people from all over the world, in very close quarters, over long drawn out dinner conversations. We discussed life stories over numerous cups of tea. Michelle, (one of the women I met at my volunteer host family) and I are planning to volunteer together next year.
15. Do you feel you’ve improved your Spanish language skills since being here?
Yes, definitely, I will be back for Spanish lessons!
16. Were you able to travel and explore during your time?
Yes, I particularly enjoyed hiking Volcan de Agua with my new friends. It was wonderful to be able to enjoy a new country with new friends.
17. What has been your most memorable experience?
At one of the orphanages, I spent time at the playground. I remember sharing laughs with other volunteers and the local staff because there was a boy called Alberto who wore his shoes on the wrong feet. He put his shoes on himself, so we adults decided to not correct his effort. Alberto spent the whole day wearing shoes the wrong way. It was the most innocent and fun thing to observe regarding his enthusiasm for life, shoes, and being independent. What I saw and experienced is children live in a pure and authentic way and we adults have so much to learn from them.
18. Any last comments?
Without a doubt, the best thing about volunteering abroad has been self-discovery. I learned even more about myself than I thought I would. I would also like to thank everyone at the office in Guatemala, including the tour company who organized my outings. One day, I was sick and had to cancel my commitment for volunteer work. Wally, a kind man at the office, called to check up on me and offered me the services of the doctor, which reassured me that I had chosen well with Maximo. The organization delivered a very professional and pleasant experience. I invite you to read all about it on my blog at www.sexybrilliant.com.
Thank you Devina (#DevinaKaur)
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