GoAbroad Interview to Coordinator in Chile La Serena
Lone Ehlers – ABV Coordinator
Lone Ehlers has been ABV’s Coordinator in La Serena, Chile since 2007. But her connections to ABV extend far beyond a job, as her son Oliver is a co-founder of the organization. With over 25 years of experience living and working in La Serena, Lone is full of insight for new volunteers and enjoys sharing the beauty of the country with each of them.
How did you get involved with the organization?
I had for many years’ worked with Danida, a Danish organization in Chile. I spent years working in he poor areas in La Serena and Coquimbo, helping raise money for many poor schools. When Oliver and Sarah explained what they wanted to start in Chile they asked me to get involved. I was happy to use my experience and personal contacts to help the people of La Serena.
What makes the program especially interesting?
We have two very good projects. Our orphanage work and the school projects both need and welcome volunteer support. La Serena is pretty much a year round location so the programs are available 12 months a year. We have wonderful, caring, loving host mothers. Many of whom I have known for several years.
How does A Broader View screen participants for your program? What do you look for in potential participants?
We try not to deny any person from volunteering. If they have the time, energy, are proactive, and are willing to give the best they can, we try to work with them. Volunteers need to have Spanish skills to come to Chile. If they do not have Spanish skills we do offer the Spanish immersion option. We also ask for a criminal clearance for all volunteers.
Who is a typical ABV volunteer?
Over the last six years as coordinator, I have had the chance to meet and host a lot of different people. I have met young people on their honeymoon, twin siblings, and even had an 80 year old woman volunteer stay with us. My ABV volunteers have come from all over the USA & Canada, and as far as India.
How do you prepare for the arrival of participants at the site? What does your orientation package include?
The orientation guide is about 10 pages long and is designed to help our volunteer quickly acclimate to Chilean culture, as well as get ready to volunteer. Information includes visa/vaccinations, packing lists, what to expect while in country, the do’s and don’ts, also ABV’s expectations of the volunteers.
About a month before a project begins the volunteers are sent a written summary of the project, the work hours/descriptions, donation ideas, local address and telephone numbers, and the ABV emergency telephone number and procedures. All that comes from the US office. I have spoken and emailed with volunteers before they arrive to Chile.
What makes volunteering in La Serena unique?
I am sure I am biased. I have lived here for almost 25 years! La Serena is a great place to live and visit. You can be looking at the Pacific Ocean one minute and less than an hour later be in the high mountains. This area of Chile is so beautiful, and the reason I have stayed here so many years. It is easy to move around town, people still greet you in the street, the weather is Mediterranean so all year is nice.
What type of support does A Broader View provide participants while on location?
I pick up the volunteers at the airport or bus station, then we go to the host family to settle in. As we all get to know each other we have a short orientation of the rules and regulations of the host family. We then have a short city tour to show the volunteer to change money, buy at a supermarket, bank, internet cafes, the mall.
The next day I take the volunteers to the project and make introductions. I will see my volunteers twice a week, and call frequently to the host families to see how things are going. The volunteers know they can call me 24/7 if they have an emergency. I will come for the volunteer and take them back to the airport at the end of the project.
How do you help participants adjust to the new environment and culture?
Doing the introductions to the host families, to the program, orientation day and city tour, and showing them how to take transportation to the programs; also they get information on tours and reliable tour agencies for weekend tours. And they get a map of the city so they know how to move in it. The host families are a great add-on to help them adjust to the culture and environment.
How do you ensure the safety of participants in your program?
Aside from the Orientation guide and ABV information given to the volunteers, A Broader View has a curfew on the weekend and weekends. Volunteers are required to buy/rent a cell phone to stay in touch with me and their host mother. Volunteers are instructed on safety tips and the do’s and don’ts. If the volunteer uses common sense they should have no problems in La Serena.
How do you plan to further improve your program in the next few years?
We are always looking to do our best by our volunteers. I talk to volunteers, conduct exit interviews, and post rip surveys, and share these with the ABV US office. We will try our best to manage our volunteers expectations and give them a good experience.