Review Volunteer Jennifer Atkinson in La Serena Chile at the Elderly Care Center
The local ABV Coordinators were absolutely amazing from the moment I stepped off the plane and arrived in Chile through my stay. I appreciated they were there to meet me at the airport which was reassuring and I felt listened to, all my questions were answered, encouraged to participate in local events and supported.
2 surprising things bout the program I experienced were 1. How much the experience positively pushed me out of my comfort zone by providing personal care support to the seniors (i.e. Assisting with feeding, blow drying hair etc.,! And 2. How welcoming the staff members were.
2 surprising things about my host family were 1.) how at ease and welcomed I felt into the home away instantaneously with my host mom Vilma 2.) how wonderful the food was as I tend to be a picky eater but did not experience this here once at all.
2 surprising things about the country I experienced are
1.) how welcoming Chilean people are as a whole,
2.) that their is very limited speaking English people at the airport if you need assistance and
3.) how drastically the weather changes from morning to afternoon to evening on a daily basis as I was not prepared for this.
The most challenging thing I experienced at the program, with my host family and the country was not adequately preparing myself to speak the language. It was challenging to communicate with the seniors and staff at the nursing home and sometimes felt like I was getting in the way rather than I was being helpful by not speaking the language and felt like I could be a better volunteer and get to know the seniors in a more personal level had I spoken the language. I can say that I was a bit naive when I signed up for the program thinking not speaking the language would not be a huge barrier but it was. I would recommend a volunteer to take the Spanish immersion. However, I think we did a good job at communicating in my host family but not speaking the language would have been really the only barrier I experienced. The same is true with all my experiences in Chile.
If I could offer any tips for future volunteers they would be the following :
1.) consider Spanish lessons prior arriving and in country
2.) be prepared for the drastic changes in weather and pack accordingly
3.) take advantage of some of the tours offered (i.e. Islas damas, the observatory, elqui Valley) as they are all terrific!!
4.) if you enjoy walking, you may not need to use public transit and may be able to walk to placement it make sure you have comfortable shoes!
5.) enjoy the tour of the city when you first arrive and be sure to ask questions...very knowledgeable!
Other things for volunteers to consider include :
1.) consider the Spanish immersion program or taking lessons privately, don't assume English will be spoken, 2.) expect to feel tired 3.) be prepared to feel put of your comfort zone at placement and embrace it, try to get comfortable tolerating and embracing uncertainty and take advantage of trying new skills etc.,
I would describe my accommodations, meals, security and quality of others as exceeding my expectations. My host mom has been absolutely fantastic and an internal part of what has made this experience what it is. I appreciated there was some privacy in my sleeping space with access to the bathroom but that I never felt isolated at all. I never worried about my safety inside or outside the home. The food has been amazing and geared to my special considerations while the portions have been fantastic. Vilma provided meals on the weekends as well during some of the times I was able to explore around town.
My volunteer experience in La Serena has been fantastic and has exceeded all my expectations both in the new experiences I have gathered at the nursing home and in the generosity of my host mom and ABV staff. I was able to push boundaries in myself, develop an increased weld awareness of the needs of seniors that I will be able to apply in my own work as a social worker. I would absolutely do something like this again in the future and use ABV as the organization.
My favorite memory of the programs is sharing smiles and laughs with the seniors on a daily basis even though we didn't speak the same language because it shows both volunteering and learning from the seniors can be a universal experience.
My favorite memory of my host family is sharing meals and learning more about my host mom and family, Chilean culture etc., in a very organic and informal way that felt natural and added to my experience.
My favorite memory about the country will be experiencing the trips and being able to see more of the landscape, see penguins and dolphins in their natural habitat and the stars at the observatory.
The ABV USA support prior to traveling was fantastic and would describe the as seamless. Any questions or concerns I had before coming were answered promptly and my communication with the staff was pleasant and reassuring. Emails would be answered usually within a few hours by the staff members which was appreciated. One example is getting reassurance after the bank had lost my money transfer which was dealt with and clarified the next day which put mind at ease.
I liked the reservation system online-- I was able to complete the tasks at my own pace, time frame etc., and felt the website was easy to navigate. I felt I was kept up to date with reminders and felt I had support available to plan for my trip.
I learned about ABV from the friend that volunteered on this project with who had used this organization in previous experiences and had a positive experience.
I would be willing to speak to other potential ABV Volunteers about my experiences. I would prefer email communication if possible.
Thank you for wonderful experience from a first time volunteer.