In September-October of 2017, we were pleased to support Beth, a young volunteer from America who was looking to volunteer in Mexico helping teach English. Beth chose to work in Project M11, a community centre run by the Salvation Army that helps provide out of school support to children from one of the poorer parts of Puerto Vallarta.
Beth chose Mexico in part as it would help develop her Spanish, by both working and living in the community. Read Beth’s account of her stay, plus the full detail of her project below
“I had a wonderful experience with Outreach International. The pre-trip briefing was extremely informative and helpful, and the support Greta, the program coordinator, offered me was excellent and reassuring. The accommodation was safe, and the host family was exceptionally welcoming.
I enjoyed both of the projects I had an opportunity to work with. The first was the teaching English to street children project in Mojoneras. The kids were so sweet, and my interactions with them meant the world to me; I was surprised by how understanding they could be about my limited Spanish-language ability.
Last minute, the couple that runs the project in Mojoneras informed Greta and I that they would be going away (for the last week, to support those affected by the earthquake – Ed.). While this situation was not OI’s fault, they were still very quick in responding to the situation and finding me the opportunity to work on another project for my final week, which was I was very impressed by and pleased with.
For my final week, I chose to work on the veterinary project in Nuevo Vallarta. While I am only a high school graduate and have no qualifications to work with veterinarians, they were very accommodating and still allowed me to come in to observe and help translate for English-speaking customers. I had a very good experience in this project, and it was nice finishing off my visit with such a good opportunity to practice my Spanish by translating for customers and conversing with the staff. (I was also very excited to observe a few animal surgeries! It certainly sparked my interest in veterinary work.)
Throughout my visit, Greta was exceptionally helpful. She was always quick to respond when I needed help, and she was very vigilant in making sure I was safe, healthy, and happy in my project. She even offered to take me on a couple day trips on the weekends; she took me to Sayulitas and San Pancho and was happy to show me around.
I was also very pleased with the Spanish lessons I was offered. Lupita is easily one of the kindest women I have ever met. The structure of her lessons was very helpful; she allowed me the opportunity to practice conversing in Spanish one-on-one, and she helped build my confidence in speaking Spanish to others.
My host family was also exceptionally friendly. I felt very safe in their home, and they were very friendly in asking me to attend parties and day trips with them, which allowed me to experience Mexican culture. Justina was also very accommodating. She was constantly checking in, making sure I was happy, and always offering me food.
I am very grateful that I found and chose Outreach International to travel and volunteer with. I wouldn’t trade my experience with OI for anything, and I would certainly consider volunteering with OI in the future.”
Beth McCormick, USA 2017
For more information see Beth’s Evaluation Report below:
The application and interview process is perfectly clear and easy. The interview process was very pleasant. I explained that I was looking for a teaching project in a Spanish-speaking country, where I could practice and learn Spanish. I got exactly what I was looking for, being placed with a host family in Mexico and in a project that allowed me to teach English.
The pre-trip briefing was helpful. I was informed a little about the culture, which allowed me to anticipate culture differences. I was also prepared for the limited resources at the project, which allowed me to come prepared with all the materials I wanted.
I also learned a few helpful tips, including remembering to ask taxi drivers for prices before I got in the cab, which proved quite useful. The talk with the local Mexican coordinator, Greta, was very helpful and comforting. It was nice to know a little more about her before I left. I did feel sufficiently prepared by the whole pre-trip process.
Greta was always just a call or text away, and she always made sure to take care of any of my concerns — whether it be about bus-routes, medical concerns, or questions about weekend day-trips. She was very friendly and helpful, right from the beginning, and she helped me to feel more at-ease throughout my stay.
I stayed with Justina and her family. They were exceptionally friendly and open, and they often invited me to parties or day trips. I had my own room on the third floor, which had a nice bathroom, 3 beds, and plenty of space.
Justina was very accommodating. She would have breakfast and lunch (to take to the project) ready for me each morning, and she was always offering me food from the time I got back from the project until nighttime. The meals were very good, and they were usually traditional Mexican food; I enjoyed getting to try these foods.
I never felt unsafe or at risk. But, as I was warned during my pre-trip briefing, I did find it was very much a culture in which the men would stare and often feel entitled towards women. I did take care not to be out too late alone, and while I never felt too unsafe because of this, I was catcalled and asked a couple times by random older men if I would have a drink with them, but I never ran into actual problems with this.
The project runs from about 11am to 1 or 2 pm. I’d arrive about an hour before the children came, and help set up tables and chairs. From around 11-12, I would have time to teach English or play with the children, and from around 12-1, I would help serve the children food and help clean up. I usually hung around for another hour or two, sometimes to help clean, and sometimes to converse with some of the children that also hung around a bit later.
I was the only volunteer during the time I was there. But there were 3 older women who worked there regularly, who did the cooking and cleaning and supervised the children. There were about 40-60 children, but the number varied each day. But the majority of the children didn’t come in until meal time, and I would only teach around 10-25 children a day.
The primary goal of the project was to offer the children a place to get food and a place to hang out and play for a bit before or after school. They were certainly fulfilling this goal. My personal goal coming into the project was to teach English. This was a bit difficult at first, but I was soon able to teach and interest many of the children, and I was satisfied that many of them started remembering the phrases and words I was teaching them.
The project seemed to be meeting its goals of feeding the children and offering them a place to hang out and play safely. The women were all friendly with the children, and the children seemed to appreciate and like them too. I would say the project was well-run and ethical.
Volunteers should bring any materials they plan to use, because they really do have very very few materials there. I suggest that they prepare teaching activities that are game-based. They should act friendly with the children so that they are willing to play with the volunteer, but should still establish that they are still a sort of authoritative figure.
It would certainly be easier to teach and make larger progress with teaching if the volunteer understands and speaks some Spanish. But the children are still very understanding if you cannot understand or speak with them properly. But I do think a volunteer could make better progress if they are able to communicate in Spanish, because the children sometimes need more explanation in Spanish while you are teaching or explaining an activity.
By making vocabulary cards and developing matching and competition games, I interested the children in learning English. By the end of my time at the project, many of the children were remembering most of the phrases and words I had taught them. I believe that I sparked some of the children’s interest in learning more English. I also left the note cards that I made at the project, so that future volunteers can use them with the children.
Review the project page M11 for more information on working with children in Mexico. For information on the veterinary project see the project page or read Charles review of his time volunteering on a veterinary elective
To discuss your own opportunity to volunteer, just share some of your details to set up a conversation about your ambition to volunteer