Third Week of Volunteering

Salvador da Bahia Travel Blog

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After the second week, a bunch of volunteers left, mainly those who could only get a limited time away from work. Another group of about seven people came to volunteer for just one week. You gotta do what you gotta do, but I can't imagine only spending a week or two there because it took two weeks to really settle into my school and volunteering. At that point I felt that I could see what the kids' were capable of doing and what activities I could bring that would engage the students. I think if you have a limited time to volunteer abroad, the best option is building or fixing things.

One thing that was hard to deal with was the fact that the kids didn't know how to share. When I brought in art projects that involved gluing bits of things (colored paper, feathers, etc.) or using other small objects such as beads, the kids would immediately grab as much as they could. They would use way more glue than they needed and ask for more. They would hide things in their shirts and ask for more. Every day I would hear, "Tia! Tia! Mais!" The smaller and less assertive kids often ended up with nothing or very little. I guess it is possibly a microcosm of their lives in the favelas where there is little to go around and the most forceful potentially end up with the most. This inability to share carried into playtime with one kid grabbing another kids' toy without asking, which inevitably lead to one or both in tears.

I started to give the kids individual and equal amounts of materials for the activities. This curbed the grabbing a little bit. I encouraged the kids to stay seated and wait patiently for me to work my way around the table instead of trying to call me over to the other side of the table to help them first. One of the most entertaining things I brought in was a Brazilian flag project. I cut out the shapes of the flag and had them glue them together and attached a stick on one side for a pole. They cheered each time they glued on a new layer for the flag and when they were done, they sang what I assume is the Brazilian national anthem and waved their flags. So cute!

My teacher began to give me more things to do to help her and one of those things was writing homework by hand and drawing pictures to color by hand. The teachers didn't have access to a copy machine so that's what they had to do. It can be a tedious task to rewrite homework on blank paper 20-something times. After a few days of this, I asked the staff at the house to make copies of coloring pictures and some of her assignments to lighten the load a bit. Even after that, I still spent plenty of hours writing out alphabet activities and tracing pictures of monkeys and sailboats and other things.

It doesn't take long to fall in love with the kids and it was hard thinking about what would happen to them as they got older. That week I felt very small and wondered how much of an impact I could really make in my short time there. I know some of my fellow volunteers also felt the same way and certain days were really emotional for some people. The longer you're there, the more you get attached to the kids and the shorter time you're there, the less you feel like you can make a difference. I guess that's the reality of the short-term volunteering. In the end, you have to come terms with the fact that you can only do what you can do during your time there. Another thing that helps reconcile these feelings is looking at it not only as a service experience, but also a cultural exchange experience. There was a lot to be learned by getting inside a culture and getting to know people and understanding their beliefs and values and the way they live.
Isoinspira says:
So true! It does not take long to fall in love with the kids and become attached to them. What an incredible experience!!
Posted on: Apr 18, 2007
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