Reactions to Volunteering

There’s this conversation that I’ve had repeatedly with some of the volunteers over the years.  I’ve tried to write it down before, but it comes out sounding either conceited or self-deprecating and I can never quite seem to get the words right.  So please forgive me if this sounds clumsy.

When you tell people that you’re a volunteer teacher in Honduras, there are two main reactions.  “Oh my gosh, you are saving the world! You are changing lives!” is the first one.  The second one is “But how much are you really helping?  It’s just one class in one school in one community in one country.”  Both are valid responses, but seem to miss the point of the whole thing.

I’m not saving the world.  I don’t have any delusions of grandeur that I am.  I do not pull babies out of burning buildings with the power of English.  I don’t believe that I am personally changing the lives of every student in my class.  I am only a small part of the school.  However, the school does change lives.  The education the kids receive has the potential to change their lives, but in the long term.  These students can go on to get better jobs and provide better futures for their parents or their kids.  They also get to spend time with an adult who really cares about them every day for a few hours.  For some of them, there is no one supportive at home and having stable adults in their lives can help get or keep them on the right path.

While we’re not changing lives on a daily basis, I do believe we help.  The volunteers are here every day.  We show up and work every single day, often taking our work home with us or tutoring after school.  We tie shoes, clean up skinned knees, give out plenty of hugs and love, and listen to small children tell long, rambling stories.  We make sure kids have food and are there for them when there are problems at home.  We teach the best we can, and we really love these kids.

The volunteers here, past, present and future, together can change the lives of the students we work with, but only as a group.  The same way that most kids can’t learn English in one year, one volunteer for one year does not change the lives of these kids.  It’s the fact that we have volunteers come every year and work hard that helps these kids.  We need every volunteer we get.  We do not get millions of applications or people knocking down our gate to come and teach.  We search and search for people to come and usually continue recruiting the whole year because we never have a full team.  The people who do come work their butts off and give their all to these kids day in and day out.

The point of the whole thing is that I’m the lucky one.  No one reacts to “I’m a volunteer teacher in Honduras” by telling me “Wow, you’re so lucky to be able to do that.”  But that’s how I feel.  I am lucky enough to be in a financial situation where I am able to volunteer.  I am lucky that I have supportive parents who, when I told them that I wanted to move to Honduras, did not react in shock and horror, and who have continued to support me through my almost 3 years here.  And more than anything, I’m lucky to get to spend my time with some amazing kids and the most incredible families here. I’m content with the idea that I might not be changing lives, but am happy just to help in some small way with my work.  I’m not saving the world, but my time here, added to a whole lot of time with from other volunteers, can help these kids have a better future.  And that’s what I believe in and why I wake up every day and come into work.

Miss Liz, Kinder Teacher and Volunteer Coordinator

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