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James Watson 2007 – My experience of volunteering and its value

Monday, 1 October, 2007

Our trip to Nicaragua was a fascinating experience, and one which I personally, and I think all of us, enjoyed immensely, at the same time as learning a great deal. I feel like my horizons were expanded dramatically by being able to witness and be a part of supporting the people that we met over there. We were able to travel around quite a lot in Nicaragua and have introductions to numerous different struggles of different communities and groups. From the population of the tiny, isolated village of Los Positos trying to find resources to provide schooling to their children, to the Banana workers camped in Managua struggling for government recognition of their problems with carcinogenic agricultural chemicals. Meeting these people as part of the Santa Rosa Fund (and ENCA) and being able to offer real support gave a powerful feeling of connectedness to their struggles.

In addition to these introductions, what we were really there to do was get directly involved teaching computation to the teachers of the school. Apart from letting us really get to know the fantastic people at Colegio Santa Rosa, this was when we were able to put in our own efforts to help, and solidified our sense of connection, a sense of our ability to exchange with the people of Nicaragua. After this teaching, I had a month free in Central America, and so travelled to Costa Rica, to the village of Longo Mai, and started teaching English classes in conjunction with some other volunteers that I met there. There were that many more challenges teaching English in Longo Mai, we had to find our own students for a start, and also found that English is a much more complicated thing than computers to structure classes for. So these experiences gave me a clear idea of the different sorts of difficulties that can crop up in different contexts when trying to find use for ones skills in a foreign country.

Volunteering in Central America was a learning experience. Ultimately what strikes you most clearly when working with organisations like the Santa Rosa Fund is how tangible a difference the money that they bring can make to the projects that receive it. Even small amounts of support can make a huge difference to small scale projects and the communities they help, which often have specific material needs that are cheap to us, but are beyond their investment abilities. The gratitude that they express is at times overwhelming, and the sense of solidarity and friendship that develops so easily (Central Americans really are the nicest, friendliest people you could hope to meet) really grabs you and makes you realise that just because they are on the other side of the world, it doesn’t make their needs any less important than ours. And aside from the awakening that my experiences provided me, just the chance to get out of England, see some beautiful places, and avoid being swamped in the summer floods was a good enough reason for me to take part in something like this!

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