by Janna Elwell, Greenheart Travel Volunteer in Chile
It’s kind of a surreal thing, realizing that you will be leaving for a foreign country in seven days. It feels like just yesterday I was browsing through programs in the study abroad office at the University of Utah, thinking what an amazing experience it would be to be a part of something like that. Continual thoughts of “well, there’s no harm looking into it” somehow landed me here: preparing to leave for Chile one week from today, where I will be living for the next eight weeks.
I initially met with a study abroad adviser in October, just to see what it would take to become involved with one of their programs. It didn’t take long for her to sell me on the idea; I quickly realized what a unique opportunity lay in front of me, and what a fool I would be to pass it up. However, now came the difficult part…which program did I want? Where did I want to go? The world has never seemed so extensive as it did then, as the options were endless.
After much discussion and an extremely long string of emails we came to the conclusion that a volunteer abroad trip fit my needs better than study abroad. I’m at no shortage for academic credit, and I was confident that I would be able to more fully immerse myself in the culture if I didn’t have schoolwork to be worrying about (those of you who know my study habits can attest to this). My adviser sent me a lengthy list of various volunteer organizations for me to look into, and it all just sort of rolled into place after that.
There were so many fantastic programs across the world that I wanted to be a part of, but once I read about the project site in Chile I knew this was the place where I wanted, almost even needed, to spend my summer. The project is designed to provide children who have been abused or abandoned by their parents with a home, surrounded by other “brothers and sisters” who are in similar circumstances, and an opportunity to build familial relationships and attachments that would have otherwise been lost. I have not had much contact with the actual program in Chile, however their sponsor, Greenheart Travel, has been really great about keeping me well updated and informed.
From what I’ve read, the project site has roughly 80 kids who have all been divided among the 10 houses on the property in order to create little nuclear families. Each family has a “Tia”, or aunty, who acts as a motherly figure for these children to form a healthy mother-child attachment with. These kids both live here as well as attend school here. I will simply be a widespread volunteer, helping with various activities and tasks across the facility, teaching some English, and acting as a positive role model for the kids. I am traveling there alone, however I will be living in a 5-bedroom volunteer house on the facility’s property, and I’m hoping that those other 4 bedrooms will be filled! What better way to maximize the experience than by making new friends??
I am trying to maintain a realistic perspective: I know that at times this is going to be difficult work tinged with heartache and homesickness. However I am also sure that it will become one of the most enriching and rewarding experiences of my life. I’m looking forward to gaining new perspectives through immersing myself in another culture and certainly do not plan on coming out of this trip as the same individual I am going in as.