2015 was my first year of long-term volunteering: a year of new friendships, often bizarre experiences, and unlimited opportunities to discover South America and learn how volunteering could be of real benefit to the local people I encountered.
While 2015 was a great year for volunteering, I want to make 2016 ever better.
So here are my volunteering resolutions for 2016, based upon a reflection of the past year.
What do you think? Comment below to let me know about your own volunteering resolutions, or what you think about mine.
Resolution one: I will discover new, more remote destinations for volunteering
In 2015, I lived in two Bolivian cities volunteering (Sucre and La Paz), spent some time in a rural community (Maragua, near Sucre) before moving to my current location, Cusco in Peru. While these were all great locations to learn Spanish, meet new people and start to understand South America, I still know that there are so many other, more interesting places where I could volunteer.
For 2016, I like the idea of somewhere really remote; the jungle, perhaps, or a tiny village in the mountains where you can absorb the culture and life with every single breath.
If you’re looking at your first volunteering placement, then I strongly recommend finding one in at least a decent sized town and with the prospect of being around other volunteers with whom you can share and enjoy the experience.
But for me, 2016 will be a chance to get further afield and deeper under the skin of the countries I visit.
Resolution two: I will overcome my language demons – and reap the rewards
Learning a language has been the hardest, but most rewarding, part of volunteering in 2015. I’ve written in a previous post about my battles – and victories – with Spanish over the past fourteen months, and 2016 is the year when I’ll decide that I CAN speak Spanish, and not only this, I WILL.
It sounds stupidly obvious, but I’ve learned that the only way to get better is to speak, and the volunteering role that I’m currently doing has forced me to speak, and to recognise that I can do it.
On my recent trip to Chile, I was complimented daily by local people, and was even told by Peruvian friends that they liked me accent. Nothing feels better – and boosts your confidence – more than being told you’re actually doing OK. But I’ve realised that you’ll never get those compliments if you don’t try in the first place.
Therefore 2016 is the year where I’ll stop taking the easy way out of speaking English to those who can, and actively practise Spanish at every opportunity. 2016 is the year of speaking!
Resolution three: I will embrace every volunteering opportunity
Being away from home and quite seriously out of your comfort zone can see you missing out on some of the best experiences through a lack of confidence, fear or frustration at how things work around you. 2015 saw me experiencing this.
Last May, I was teaching in a school in the remote village of Maragua, around four hours from Sucre. At that time, I refused to take a taxi to get to the school, loaded with – I kid you not – nine other people, and the following Sunday, I decided that I didn’t want to go back due to their complete lack of organisation and apparent disinterest in me helping out at the school.
While I don’t regret not taking that taxi (shut in the boot, incapable of moving for four hours along some of the most dangerous roads I’d ever seen), I do regret throwing the towel in and not going back.
South America, by its very nature, is disorganised, and this becomes part of the daily fabric of life that you have to learn to live with here. For me, 2016 is the year that I drop any expectations I may have and learn to accept life here; warts and all.
Resolution four: I will have more patience. Lots more patience.
I’m certainly not the world’s most patient person, and despite surviving five years in the classroom without throwing myself, or one of my students, out of the window, I still struggle when I’m kept waiting. But this just doesn’t work here, and if you were to try and live by European schedules, then you would quite simply go mad.
2016 will be the year where I learn to embrace the slowness, and actually enjoy the more casual, relaxed mood that living in South America can offer. I’ll accept that people won’t get back to my emails immediately, and nor will they ring me back when they say they will. That’s life.
Most importantly, I will learn to accept that the good I manage to achieve, despite these obstacles, will be good that wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t there. And learning to accept the pace of life will give me a better understanding of, and a chance to engage more with, the local people here: ultimately my principle aim of volunteering.
What are your volunteering resolutions for 2016?
Have you had any similar experiences to the ones I’ve listed above? Let me know in the comments section, and visit my series on Finding Your Next Volunteering Placement to learn more about Volunteering Meaningfully in South America.