Volunteer Name: Ivy Elgarten
Project Location: Belize
Volunteered at: Orphanage
1- How was the local ABV Coordinator and the support provided in-country?
The local ABV Coordinator and the support provided were very good. When we got to the airport we were greeted as soon as we got out and were introduced to some of the staff upon arriving back at Liberty. We were always able to access the internet if we needed to, and we could always contact the coordinator if we had questions or wanted to work out any planning with our trip. She was very welcoming and helped make sure we arrived to the airport on time, etc. However, there were points when our times were very disorganized and the office seemed to have the wrong information, so it may have been helpful for someone to have confirmed with us earlier that they had the right times and other info.
ABV: always double check the schedule of the program with the coordinator, make sure all is as planned the day before and during the day. This orphanage is under-staffed and you can't expect to have all work as a watch.
2- What was the most surprising thing you experienced?
The most surprising thing I experienced was my attachment to the kids at the orphanage. Honestly, going into it I didn't really know what to expect. I thought it would be a fun time but that after a week I'd be ready to go home. It turned out that by the end of my 10 days I was wishing I could stay tens more because I truly loved being around the kids. It was crazy to me that in such a short time I could feel so attached to people who had so little in common with me, but when I was leaving I was near tears. Even today, about a month and a half later, I think of the kids from the orphanage on a daily basis and of my future plans to revisit.
3- What was most difficult situation you experienced or had to overcome?
The most difficult situation I experienced was probably just the first few days of being at the program. Since the other volunteers there had already been there for weeks, I felt a little bit out of the loop. The culture was so starkly different and a bit of a shock, and it was hard to feel comfortable around people who already knew each other and knew what to do. Since the culture is very relaxed, there is not much direction and not many people telling you what to do. This was both good and bad, because it took away the pressure but also made me feel a little lost. However, by just the second day I was starting to get to know some of the kids and the staff and I felt very comfortable shortly after.
4- Any tips for future volunteers… (clothing, travel, personal items, donations)
Bring pants to protect from bug bites, and buy bug spray! Also bring some money to buy items that the program may need; after just a few days you will feel the urge to help out as much as you can.
ABV: in the orientation guide is told to bring bug spray and proper clothes for this location.
4.1-Other things/tips for future volunteers:
a.- Don't be intimidated by the kids or the staff. They all know each other very well, and they may seem that they don't care for the new volunteers. However, some of them are just a bit shy and need getting used to. Don't try to force your relationship with them and don't patronize them. Treat them like friends, but be responsible.
b.- Don't be intimidated by other volunteers who may seem to know what they're doing and you don't. Hopefully the other volunteers will be just as helpful as my fellow volunteers were. Even if you don't have the guidance of other volunteers, you can always ask a staff member if you need something.
c.- Embrace the culture of Belize! Take a walk, try the foods, learn some of the words. These things will make you love Belize and help keep its memory alive.
d.- Keep a journal of everything you did. Write down the names of the staff and kids, write down the Kriol words you learned, write down something funny that a kid said. You will want to remember these things when you leave!
5- Personal Paragraph (ABV Program Testimonial):
My experience with ABV at the orphanage was better than I ever could have expected. As a 17 year old who had never been off the continent, I really didn't know what I was getting myself into with my trip to Belize. As soon as I got there, I saw immediately how different everything was. It was a bit shocking at first, but I kept an open mind. The kids and other volunteers at first intimidated me, because many of them were a bit reserved and they all knew each other so well. Slowly, though, I began to get to know them. So many of them have such interesting stories and wonderful personalities. From the 5 year olds to the 16 year olds, I miss each one of them dearly. I consider those people my friends, and I think of them all the time and hope to return to them soon. I never thought I could get so attached to a group of 30 + children in a span of 10 days, but I was completely wrong. Leaving Belize was so sad for me, and I wish I could have stayed longer. I can't recommend the trip to the orphanage enough. You will fall in love with those kids and be so happy that you did.
6- How would you describe/rate your accommodation, meals, security (e: host family, on-site, shared). Any suggestions for improvement?
The accommodation and security were both very good. My room was comfortable and useful, but I didn't spend much time there as I was usually hanging out with the kids. The meals were filling but were a bit startling to me because 1) I am a vegetarian and 2) I am used to having a much more varied diet. I don't think the meals were a problem, but it would have been helpful to know in advance what sorts of things I would be eating.
ABV: this information is in the Orientation Guide, we recommend all volunteers read this guide before traveling.
7- What was your favorite memory of this trip?
My favorite memory of this trip is playing basketball with Delroy, one of the older boys at the program. I didn't get to know Delroy until about half way through my stay, but once I did I was so glad I had. Delroy is great at basketball and we would sometimes play a game called Around the World. One night, most of the kids were in the kitchen watching tv after dinner, and Delroy and I were playing Around the World outside. It was so simple, but I felt so grateful and I was simply happy. I didn't beat Delroy in the game but I came close! We played basketball many times after that, and although I usually failed to do very well in the games, I always had so much fun.
8.- How was the communication and support you received from ABV prior to traveling? Any suggestions for improvement?
The communication and support I received were very sufficient. I got many emails making sure that my flight/trip were good prior to my arrival back home. I have no suggestions for improvement; ABV made me feel very secure about my travels.
9 – Are you willing to email/speak to potential volunteers about your ABV experience?