Working as a volunteer is an experience that can cause a mixture of emotions which are important to be aware of. Most work conditions are far from the standards that the western world is accustomed to. Certain projects may be missing key necessities. At first this can be a bit daunting and difficult to adjust to. The important thing is to keep an open mind and be creative! Your first day of work will be exciting and possibly challenging. So with this in mind it is good to remember that this is a job, just like any other! The projects are counting on you to be there, and to offer your best effort in helping out. If you find that you are unwell or unable to make it in, let the project know. They greatly appreciate it and it also reflects well on the organization that you are associating yourself with.
An attitude of service and cooperation along with a desire to share your skills and your talents can go a long way in helping others. Setting realistic goals per day in the work you will be doing will help you during your time in the project. Volunteer work is not about changing the world, or accomplishing the impossible, but rather, bringing some joy, comfort and education into another person's life. Each project has different goals and objectives so it is important to remember that compromise and patience is necessary, especially when working in a foreign culture and environment.
Once you begin your work, it can be a challenge and is almost always different than how you imagine it to be. Even though we each have unique ideas and visions that we would like to carry through, it is important to have realistic expectations with each project. Respecting the rules and regulations of each project is very important and benefits you, the volunteer as well. Make sure you are familiar with the project you will be working at, if there are negative aspects to it, unforeseen challenges, or even possible new opportunities that you may be able to use to help you while working. Keep in mind that certain projects may require more patience than others, especially those projects that deal with tougher issues. It is good to expect that there may be some hard days where you feel that your help is not being used or appreciated in how you may have previously anticipated. If you go into your volunteer work experience with a positive attitude, an open mind and a plan, chances are you will have more success in accomplishing what you had intended to. You may not always be given the direction that you are used to in Western culture, so having determination and diligence will help you to succeed in the goals you have set out for. Some projects will let you know what they need you to do, when, where and how; whereas others will not. For this reason it is a good idea to have an agenda, pre-planned activities or realistic goals in mind to carry with you when you begin.
Some suggestions for activities with children are as follows:
Teaching English or other secondary language
Plan an arts and crafts project that you can work on continuously during the course of your stay
Prepare a skit or a dance recital so that the children have an event to look forward to!
Organize a sports day or field event
Volunteer work surrounding marine biology, archaeology, tourism, eco-tourism, or laboral construction will usually have a more detailed layout for what they need you to do. Laboral construction usually involves building a house or a school, repairing buildings, constructing churches, etc. Tourism and eco-tourism can usually involve more administrative work and details, whereas marine biology and archaeology will usually have a specific scientific project that assistance is needed on. Of course even with these types of projects, it is always great to have your own ideas to make your work more worthwhile. Regardless of your type of volunteer work and which country in Latin America you will be working on, it will surely be an opportunity to use your talents, benefit others, and inspire you to continue with service work upon your return home.