Review Volunteer Patrick Vaughan Colombia Cartagena Child Care program
1- How was the local ABV Coordinator/staff and the support provided in-country?
Terrific, much better than I could've ever expected. Very responsive to all my messages, questions and needs throughout my visit. Extremely friendly, helpful and generous, and at no point did she make me feel like I was inconveniencing her. Took me to Central my first night in town, showed me the bus routes and educated me on local options, amenities, etc..
2- What was the most surprising thing you experienced? Name 2
a. How much effort/work is required from the teachers every day, but how well they maintain caring relationship with the kids throughout.
b. That the school provides/does so much for the children, lots of events, snacks, lunch, hygiene (brushing teeth), etc..
a. That they spoke little to no English and had no air conditioning. Things I learned to adapt to and now appreciate experiencing.
b. How much fried food and carbs, and how little vegetables they eat, which could go in the "Country" section below too. That said, when I mentioned that I eat much more veggies at home, my host family started providing more veggies to some extent thereafter.
a. The contrast from Central/downtown to all the suburb areas such as Campestre and the location of the school.
b. How much more I liked the non-Central areas like Campestre, experiencing much more culture and witnessing simpler ways of life (no A/C, small kitchens/bathrooms, etc.) with people seeming happier than where I'm from and where they have much more "stuff" to supposedly make life easier and more comfortable.
3- What was the most challenging thing you experienced?
Program: The heat was very difficult for me to adjust to at the Fundacion. It was very difficult communicating with the teachers at school, as they speak extremely fast and seem to use slang and/or words I was much less familiar with, ask them to repeat and talk slower, they will adapt.
Host Family: The diet, so little veggies and so much starches and fried foods. Also massive lunches which I was warned about but still took some adjusting to get used to it.
Country: All of the above, heat/humidity, diet, and language, though the language also one of the best parts, as my Spanish teacher was fabulous and I enjoyed the immersion of staying in Campestre.
4- Any tips for future volunteers… (clothing, travel, personal items, donations)
a. Plenty of underwear, socks, clothes to accommodate for 2-3 showers per day.
b. I would provide them contact for great private drivers, like one I found who took me to and from Playa Blanca for 50mil pesos each way, and is taking me to airport tomorrow for 15mil pesos. I know buses are preferred option for many but for those that don't mind paying a little more for security/comfort/convenience, this is a nice option to have.
c. Donations was difficult for me. I noticed some kids didn't have toothbrushes one day so I found out how many didn't have one and bought them new toothbrushes, along with toys and candy ironically.
d. Be prepared to get attached to some kids and not look forward to saying goodbye.
5-Other things volunteers should know before coming here:
a. Kids are a lot of work and very messy (during lunch), don't wear nice shoes, clothes if you can avoid it.
b. The exact address as well as name of neighborhood and/or nearby stores that cab drivers will know to get you there.
c. A small map showing the immediate area surrounding the host families home would be nice, especially if it plotted out where they could find gyms, supermarkets, barbers, restaurants, etc.. That said, I'm glad I didn't have this because I had to figure it out, which is the "grind" that I love and seek by traveling abroad and getting out of my comfort zone.
d. Share expected taxi prices with them. I was paying 8mil for each ride to and from the Fundacion. I was typically paying 12mil to and from Central but at night or high traffic times (especially on the way back) it was sometimes 15mil pesos. The coordinator was helpful with this too, but would've been nice to know ahead of time in case I needed it.
6- Personal Paragraph about the experience (ABV Program Testimonial):
It has been a very fulfilling and beneficial experience in every aspect. Even taking into account the surprises/difficulties mentioned above, I am extremely happy I chose to do this and was provided this opportunity by ABV. After doing extensive research on all the different volunteer organizations out there, I am convinced I found the one that was not only a perfect fit for me, but an organization that is truly doing great things for those in need, such as the underprivileged children of Cartagena in this case.
7- How would you describe your accommodation, meals, security, friendliness, quality others:
Obviously quite different than what we're accustomed to in the states, but as was described in the Orientation Guide and as I expected going into this. I felt 100% safe and secure with my host family, and even in the area of the Fundacion. While the diet was a big shift for me that took some adjusting, my host family provided very enjoyable tasty meals 3 times a day and everything else I could ask for (coffee, clean water, etc.). The friendliness of all parties involved could not have been better, I was treated in a warm, welcoming and respectful manner throughout, which made the entire experience truly enjoyable.
8- What was your favorite memory of this trip?:
Program: The kids, especially a few that I grew very attached to.
Host Family: The experience of living day to day life with them. Seeing how they live conservatively (unplugging things such as fans, microwaves, phone chargers, etc.) after use. Seeing how they have everything they need and are able to enjoy the important things in life (relationships, good food, etc.) with what I've been raised to believe is less than desired for a comfortable and enjoyable life.
Country: The culture, similar to the above statement regarding happiness of the people, even with limited resources. Also the craziness of the traffic/driving but the fact that I saw so few accidents because everyone is aware and present while driving, which I've seen in many other countries abroad (Brazil, Vietnam, Cambodia, etc.).
9- How was the ABV USA support prior traveling? (who helped you, emails, phone calls, chat online, how fast did you got an answer, did you got all your answers)
Great! Didn't need any support once I got here but during registration and prior to arrival, every question/concern I had was responded to and addressed in a very timely manner.
9.1- How did you find Abroaderview website (keywords, search engine, word mouth to mouth, recommended by .., other)
Started Googling and researching different programs.
10 – Are you willing to speak to other potential ABV volunteers?
Most definitely. =)