Tips for a New Volunteer

Volunteer Ami shares her advice for new volunteers.
Mai 15, 2017 - Guatemala

Annemarie and the volunteer crew.

My name is Annemarie, I have been working at NPH Guatemala for 14 months. My official first job here was as an English teacher, and for the last two months I was the volunteer coordinator's assistant. I also worked as a tía (childcare worker), a church musician, piano teacher, and window painter, so as you can see, at NPH you will have a lot of space to try out new ideas and to get involved in different work areas!

You will also learn many new skills, such as speaking chapín (Guatemalan Spanish), dancing for every small or big event, eating every meal with just a spoon, being around people 24 hours a day, loving black beans for breakfast, or in my case, teaching English.

I would say that volunteering at NPH is like riding a roller coaster. Of course you expect to have beautiful experiences when you decide to work here for one year. And you will. But you should also keep in mind that there will be moments you are not feeling well or you are homesick. As with any children, in any family, sometimes the kids are not always grateful, and sometimes they don´t want you to give them love or they say things that hurt you. In some cases there are problems with other volunteers, and it is not always easy to live in an international community. In those cases, it is good to have something that gives you strength.

For me, music has always been something to help me relax. Also my faith helped me to get through a lot. Think of something that gives you strength at home too.

It greatly helps to have a good volunteer community. Those are the people you are living, working and spending your free time with. Sometimes it is hard to talk to family or friends at home, because it is nearly impossible for them to understand your life at NPH. Having people around at NPH is so valuable, and you might even make friends with people you would not expect, who are different from your friends at home. In one year, they become your family, and you will miss them a lot when you are back home.

To avoid problems, this always helps: Watch before you act. Maybe you see situations you don't understand, or people behave differently than you would. It could be that you know a better way to handle things, but sometimes you just see a tiny part of a big puzzle, and you do not know all the reasons or culture influences. So try to understand the bigger picture before you criticize or want to change anything.

In Guatemala it makes things a lot easier to have good relationships. You greet people when you see them, take the time for a chat, ask about their family, and you will make a lot of new friends. When you need something for your job or have a problem, it is much easier if you already have talked to the people who can help you before.

Regarding the children, there is one big gift you can give them: your time. As a volunteer you will have a full schedule and you won't even have much time for yourself, but it is worth it to spend the time with the kids. Although sometimes you will think they don't even notice that you are there, they do notice, even if they do not show it. They appreciate the time you give them, and after your free weekend they will ask you: “Where were you yesterday?” I established really close relationships with the kids in my section of course, but also with some other children I taught in school or piano.

And last but not least: Do not despair if you have hard times. I lived through some of the most difficult moments in my life during my volunteer time, but I also experienced the best ones here!

I have a great love for the children, I became part of an enormous family, I now have siblings all over the world and these 14 months as 'Tía Ami' will always be a big part of my life.

Annemarie Mayer   
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