Review Volunteer Sheila Seleri in Quetzaltenango Guatemala at the Shelter program
1- How was the local ABV Coordinator and the support provided in-country?
The coordinator was extremely helpful starting with the orientation before I started my work at the shelter all the way to the end of my program. In the orientation I received information about safety, Xela, and what I could do to help at the shelter. She offered a local cell phone, which was very inexpensive and proved to be very helpful. She also gave me great tips about local restaurants and things to do around Xela and surrounding areas since I had weekends free.
2- What was the most surprising thing you experienced?
I was extremely surprised to see how the people of Guatemala was engaged with the election process. Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in Latin America and much of it is related to corruption at the government level - the people from Guatemala were able to pressure their corrupt president to renounce and are now looking for ways to better their lives by participating in the democratic process with their vote.
3- What was most difficult to experience? The shelter in where I volunteered has girls 17 years of old or younger. All of them were victim of some sort of sexual abuse with some of them being pregnant by the abuser. Due to my training as a psychiatrist, I was requested to see some adolescents who the staff believed suffered from a mental disorder. Indeed some of the girls I interviewed, had a clear psychiatric diagnosis (e.g., major depressive disorder, ADHD, or eating disorder). Although they were able to provide not only psychological but also pharmacological treatment at the shelter, the staff mentioned that it would be extremely unlikely they would continue their treatment when back to their homes. This is due to lack of free health services and high cost of psychiatric medications in the country.
4- Any tips for future volunteers… (clothing, travel, personal items, donations)
At the shelter:
1. Be very proactive - the staff is really caring for the girls but they are under resourced. Make sure you serve as help not burden by asking them too many questions or demanding too much their attention
2. Plan ahead what activities you would like to do with the girls. I provided some materials and talked to some girls about topics such as how to have a healthy pregnancy, contraception and sleep hygiene. Other topics identified by the staff included how to take care of a new born baby, post-partum care, self-hygiene, breast-feeding. I also suggest the following: substance abuse, STDs and how to cope with aggressiveness.
Donations: Clothes are probably the most important one. For the shelter I volunteered, I also suggest baby articles.
Personal: Clothes - Xela is a bit chilly in Sep and gets really cold, I heard, Dec/Jan. Make sure to bring warm clothes.
5.1-Other things volunteers should know:
a. I was in Xela during the raining season and, yes, it rains everyday in the afternoons. Mornings are glorious though.
b. I had an unfortunate experience at the hogar as one of the girls took money from my purse that was with me when that happened. Be kind but be careful.
c. Plan ahead also for your the trips you plan to do for fun. Climbing a volcano is an awesome experience but make sure you choose the right level for your physical ability. Some can be pretty tough.
6- Personal Paragraph (ABV Program Testimonial):
I was born in Brazil, a developing country such as Guatemala. Many of the issues seem in Guatemala, such poverty, difficult health care access, are also issues seen in my native country. I feel extremely privileged to volunteer in Guatemala and give a little back to the community there, even if it is a little drop in the ocean. If more people were able to give that little drop, we could have a river, a sea! ABV was the perfect partner for this personal journey. I am sure this was the first of many other volunteering projects I will be doing with them.
7- How would you describe your accommodation, meals, security (e: host family, on-site, shared)
Accommodations were very simple but clean. I had my private room and a shared bathroom.
Meals: all meals were included in the volunteering package. Again, they were simple but good and nutritious. I particularly liked the potato tamales!
Security: I did not have any problem going around the city of Xela or Panajachel.
Host family: they were great hosts; friendly, proud of their country and eager to share their culture and stories.
8- What was your favorite memory of this trip?
How engaged and committed the people of Guatemala is to their political process; they are certainly very active in trying to promote positive changes in their country.
9- How was the ABV USA support prior traveling?
Sarah was great!!!! She kept me on track and was very flexible all the way to accommodating my always evolving calendar.
10 – Are you willing to speak to other potential ABV volunteers?