Why volunteer abroad?

I’ve had a couple of people ask me recently how I find volunteering in Honduras and whether I’d recommend it… and Laura and I have debated a couple of times whether we would recommend ICYE (Inter-Cultural Youth Exchange programme). Well it’s complicated. I know that I have absolutely loved my experience here so far, and while I can be moody sometimes as Laura so loves to remind me, I am a pretty positive person. In fact, I think my time in Honduras has made me a better person in many ways already. I am more positive, carefree and, actually, more grown up. Shocker right?! I am still silly and childish most of the time, and it still takes me about 10 minutes longer than others to catch onto jokes… but I think I have actually found maturity somewhere in amongst all that. When people have done not so good things to me recently, I won’t name names, I have let it go really quickly and just moved on. I used to find it sooo difficult to forgive people quickly but now I just don’t see the point in harbouring bad feelings about things that don’t matter in the great scheme of things, especially when there were good intentions in there somewhere. Anyway, that wasn’t the point I was making (I guess I haven’t fixed my habit of waffling then) – I was going to make the point that I have been quite positive about my time in Honduras, while other volunteers have had a much more negative experience. So I don’t want to harp on about what am amazing time I’ve had, and potentially encourge someone reading this to volunteer, as obviously my point of view is going to be a lot different to someone like Maja, who left Honduras 4 months in as she felt too in danger here. But I will do my best to give some, relatively, unbiased pros and cons below…

Pros:

1. You will grown as a person. As I already waffled on about above, you will learn more about yourself (maybe, even ‘find yourself’!!) and hopefully improve. I know that Brynja, when she left, was so happy that she became a lot more independent from her time volunteering and discovered that she could look after herself more than she had imagined before.

2. You will help others. Let’s be honest, as much as you may want to, you aren’t going to change the world. Nothing close to that even. But you might just change the lives of a few people, even in the smallest way, and it will be worth it. It means a lot to people in Honduras, who need help, that someone has bothered to come all the way from Europe to try and give something. That they are at least being considered as needing help. We have so many TV adverts, campaigns etc. for Africa in the UK, but Central America gets largely ignored despite its many problems.

3. You will make life long friends – and a much more interesting diversity of friends. I have met the most amazing friends here that despite the distance when I go home, I know I will make a huge effort to keep in touch with. I already know I will definitely be coming back to Honduras, at least to visit, and part of the reason for that is I have made best friends here. It sucks that I won’t be able to see them much at all, but they are a huge part of my experience here and I’ve learnt so much more from having them

4. You will learn soooo much more than you would studying, or probably even working. I did a degree in geography for 3 years and a masters in human rights for one year – both at big financial cost. But I learnt more in one month here than I did during 4 years of studying. Volunteering abroad in a country like Honduras will literally shake you up and change everything you thought about the World – hopefully in a good way. Sometimes it is depressing yes, and frustrating that there is nothing you can do to really change it in a big way, but at least to me it seems really important to learn that however bad you have it on a bad day at work, or when your boyfriend dumps you… you could have it a whole lot worse.

5. You will be the envy of your friends. I can’t emphasise enough how nice it is to be enjoying myself in Honduras and go on facebook and see people back home complaining about the weather, their crappy job, the stupid politics. And you will recieve countless emails from your friends saying how jealous they are and what an amazing thing you are doing. Obviously that isn’t why I chose to come to Honduras, but when I’m having a crappy day, it’s definitely a good reminder of why I am here and why I definitely chose the right thing for me.

 Cons:

1. The cost. Despite what you expect, and what your parents etc. insist, it is damnnnn expensive. So many people expect that you’re volunteering your time, so it should be free right?! It’s not… nowhere near. The cost of just my volunteer fee was around £4,200 – I managed to raise about £1,500 through fundraising for my trip but to raise the rest I worked, sold my Pandora bracelet and my beloved car, Hugo. And then there is spending money – despite Honduras being so much cheaper than the UK, I have still managed to spend way more than I expected. Honduras is still affected by western culture – with it’s expensive malls, luxury bus companies and americanised tourist driven Islands – so it is easy to spend money quickly. So if you are going to volunteer, don’t expect that it will be cheap.

2. Cultural differences. This actually hasn’t affected me too much although the culture is definitely very different – but for me, one of the reasons I volunteered was to live somewhere completely different to the country I found so boring. But if you need home comforts and familiarity, then you could find it quite disorientating. And on those days where you just want to be home and everything be normal, the country you’re in isn’t going to understand that, and will most likely throw something your way to make you want to go home even more. But these days are rare thankfully…

3. It might not be what you were hoping for. My project was everything I wanted and I love it… but the same couldn’t be said for my host family. The situation ended up getting me so down, I had to change host family. Which I’m glad of now, but at the time I was so disappointed not to gel with the family I was orginally assigned to. I know other volunteers have been unhappy with their projects too so you have to be careful about what you are expecting and manage them so you won’t be disappointed if everything isn’t perfect.

4. You will be responsible for you’re family, especially your mum, worrying. All I can say is, try not to tell the whole truth… the scary bits can wait until you’re home, jsut so your mum can rest easy at night. The fact that your friend got mugged at gun point the other day isn’t going to make your parents sleep very well for a while… (Also, on the topic of home, you will miss out on things at home – your’s friends going out, their break up and make ups, maybe even weddings, births and funerals. I don’t think this should stop you going for it, but just be ready to deal with the jealousy, guilt etc…)

5. Ermmm… I can’t think of anything worthy of number 5. Maybe missing English chocolate? So I guess homesickness is a part of it… the food, the culture, the familiar things of home. But really, that would be a silly reason to not go volunteering. And, trust me, it makes you appreciate home a whole lot more which is a good thing.

And, ICYE in particular. There are obviously good and bad things which I won’t go into to much, as obviously this is all just from my own experience and I know others have better and worse opinions than me. Overall though, I would definitely recommend ICYE as an organisation to volunteer with – the staff are really friendly, they are (almost) always available to help and it is a great way to meet more people while volunteering as it is a huge network of volunteers.

So overall, I would say to anyone that volunteering abroad is worthwhile and the experience definitely outweights the expense, homesickness etc. You will never regret that you did – and really what is the alternative? Most likely sitting at a desk doing a job you’re not all that keen on and just waiting for the weekend all week. So my suggestion is… JUST DO IT!

Alternativas y Oportunidades

Wow, I have been so useless lately. I guess things in Honduras are just normal now – things that I see now, that would have shocked me 5 months ago, still surprise me but are a lot more regular. I seem to be busy a lot too and the evenings where I do go straight home from my project, I just want to relax and not try and think of interesting things to tell you all about! This post though is dedicated to my project, Alternativas y Oportunidades – my gran sent me a letter for my birthday and mentioned that I don’t talk about my project as much as I do my social life. Oops! I guess after the first few weeks it just became like work at home – and I definitely wouldn’t have written a blog about my job at the Purple Onion or CEVA. But Ive had a fun couple of weeks at my project so thought I would share some of that with you all now…

Mostly at my project I am involved with making presentations, doing research on various topics and helping with translating. So obviously this isn’t anything too exciting – well actually it’s quite depressing. I’m making a presentation at the moment on poverty – having lived in Honduras for 5 months I thought I had seen real poverty and knew what it meant for people to be poor, hungry and desperate. But actually, I think I don’t have a clue. Most of my time is spent in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, and while there are a lot of desperate people here, I believe that poverty is worse in rural areas – due to the lack of jobs, health and education infrastructure etc. So I haven’t seen how bad it can be for people even in Honduras. And according to my research, Honduras is only the 15th most poverty stricken country in the World. 15th. That means that 14 countries suffer worse than Honduras does and more people are living in extreme poverty every day – I just cant imagine it. So it can be hard to research that kind of thing and feel like I’m doing so little.

But anyway, back to the more fun things. As I mentioned before, it was recently the 23rd anniversary of my project. We had a huge celebration – it turns out they celebrate like this every two years so the next one will be big at 25 years. But I don’t understand when they began this tradition, as surely they didn’t bypass the 20 year anniversary. Hmm. The celebration was great anyway, the first day was at the community of La Cuesta that the project helps. It is the only project to help the people there so they are very grateful and a lot of people spoke about their experiences with the project and how much they have been helped. There was cake too of course, two even!! And they were huge, always a good thing!

The next day the project did a presentation event at the library in the centro. It all felt quite like a school evening with all of us in dresses and suits and guests signing in; it was a lot of fun. There were more talks from participants, performances by the students and a play by the project. It was really nice to see so many people there celebrating the project and showing how much they appreicate the help they get.

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Last week, I helped mi tio, Hector, with his classes on ‘Learning to learn’; these were at a school in Comayaguela and at La Cuesta. Hector puts a lot of preparation into his classes but the kids just don’t seem all that interested to be honest. For example, I made some posters for the class and Hector would ask them to copy all of the information from them. Then at the end of the class, they would all give their paper and notes back – so they were all most likely going to forget everything they’d been taught. Especially in La Cuesta, as there is no appropriate space as a classroom so the students have to stand and listen, so there are far too many distractions around. I do love the younger children though, they find me quite fascinating and asking me questions about England all the time… and there is always a debate about Manchester City vs Man United. And I love being called ‘profesora’ 😀

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On Friday, I went to the graduation of Lurvin’s IT students – of course there was yet more cake. All the students clearly love Lurvin, I’ve been in the computer room when she is teaching and she’s really good at teaching and just really lovely. They were all thanking her a lot and they got certificates to show that they could use different applications etc. The wife of one of the men that works at the project had done the class also and they are one of the cutest couples ever. His wife, Vilma, is at the project a lot and always helps out, even though she doesn’t get paid and it was the cutest moment ever when she went up to get her certificate – Abraham was clapping and smiling so much, aww!

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 Lurvin and Vilma:Image

 I also went to the house of one of the women at my project last weekend which was really nice as some people from the project were there and the food was really typical Honduras and yummy. The area was quite dangerous though apparently and was clearly a poor area – Emma’s house was just 4 rooms and had a metal roof. It was the first time I’d been in a house with a metal roof and the first thing I thought was how noisy it must be when it rains hard! It was hard for me to see though as I absolutely love Emma, I call her my mum in my project, and she works so hard but has to live in such a poor, dangerous area. So many people I meet here deserve so much better than what they have.

So in case I disappear for a while again, I will definitely be disappearing from the 5th of July for a bit. We have the ICYE camp from the 5th until the 7th – which will be my mid-term evaluation and everyone elses pre-departure camp. It is so strange that everyone else is leaving and I’m staying. Apart from Laura, everyone else – Michelle, Max and Loui – will be leaving Honduras pretty much straight away. It seems so surreal that we are having the ICYE camp already and the time has gone so ridiculously quickly. I haven’t ended up spending much time with the other volunteers as we’ve all ended up with our own friends etc., but we would all see each other every now and then for a meal or night out and I’m going to miss them all. Especially Laura, but she is not leaving until August so I’m not going to get emotional over that just yet…

So what are me and Laura going to do until she leaves in August?? Well, travel of course! Technically I’m meant to use my time off at the end of my volunteering but then I would most likely have to go on my own and I’m pretty sure my mum wouldn’t let me. So instead me and Laura are going together straight after the ICYE camp to Guatemala, Mexico and Belize. We had been planning to go to South America but with our limited funds and time, it just didn’t make sense. So instead now we can take our time seeing more of Central America and Mexico and make the most of those lovely, heavenly beaches! My tan definitely needs topping up…

I will try to post before then and maybe a little while we’re travelling but we’ll see how organised I am…

Oh what a charmer…

I had a bit of a realisation today. And what brought about this realisation today was a guy in the centro shouting at me, as I was walking to get my bus home – “let me see your titties baby”. I couldn’t believe it, despite the fact that I get things shouted at me literally every single time I walk anywhere in the centro. And I usually walk from the bus to my project, to and from somewhere at lunch and then back to my bus home. So that’s at least 20 times a week I have guys shouting at me,  so I would say I’m pretty used to it by now. However this guy took me completely by surprise. It was just such a disgusting thing to say. And in English. Does he speak English or had he just learnt the most vulgar cat calls he could find?? I think I literally froze where I was stood for a couple of seconds… I didn’t even see him, I just heard him shout at me from my right somewhere. And if it had been in the UK I would have loved to have gone and told him what I thought of him, but of course I can’t do that here, so I had to force myself to carry on while still reeling from being verbally abused in the street by a stranger. I suspect guys reading this will say ‘verbally abused’ is too strong but I don’t think it is. It’s disgusting and it makes me feel victimised and vulnerable in a place like Tegus. But anyway, that isn’t the point I’m making (if it was I would direct you to the website http://www.everydaysexism.com/ which I think is an amazing idea), the reason why this particular incident bothered me was a bit more complicated than that…

As I sat on the bus home afterwards, still recovering from shock, and looking out of the window at the markets of Comayaguela – it became more apparent to me than ever how out of place I am here. I suddenly realised that if I did want to stay and live in somewhere like Honduras (which is definitely tempting for me), then I would always be the outsider. However long I lived here for, however well I learnt Spanish and built up a life here, I would still be made to feel like I was different and didn’t belong. People will always double take me when they see me here (the white skin, the blonde hair and, yes guy from today, the big boobs)  and I will always have insulting things shouted at me when I am just trying to get home. When you live somewhere and want to move there permanently, you want to become part of the community and part of the every day life in that place. But I would never have that to look forward to. If I did live here permanently, and especially if I worked in the centro, I would always be singled out every day. And really, why would I want that? Who would choose to be treated like that? I sincerely hope that one day, somehow, this will change about this part of Honduran culture and men on the street will just let a white girl past…

It has truly annoyed me that this one man has made me feel like this and, to some extent, made me question my potential desire to stay here for a more long term period. But of course, it is not all bad to look a little bit different. I was waiting at the bus stop the other day and got chatting to a woman from Honduras who had been living in the US for 20 years so was visiting her friends for a few weeks. We chatted all the way on the bus and she even paid my bus fair; things like that make me feel really welcomed in Honduras and grateful to the majority of the people here. It’s just a shame that the men, or the majority of them, want to make me feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. I know we have huge issues of xenophobic attitudes in Europe and the US, but really, it is nothing compared to here. Which is quite possibly because there are so few people here from somewhere different so the country just isn’t used to it, but they are sure making it hard to welcome others in. Something to think about Honduras? 

Mosquitoes need to be locked up

Seriously, they are thieves. They steal blood. They steal. That’s a crime. They should be locked up… not allowed to fly off and steal from someone else. Plus, they are arguably the most dangerous animal on the planet as they happily spread diseases like Malaria, Yellow Fever etc. How lovely of them. As I am lucky enough to have had injections against these deadly diseases, I don’t need to worry about these little pests too much – although Dengue Fever is quite bad in Honduras. But despite my immunity to the worst that this pests can do, I still feel that some superior bug needs to come along and lock them all up. They are so ridiculously annoying.

During the first few months living here, I had no problems with mosquitoes… I never saw any in my house and when we went for weekends away, Brynja was always the meal of choice. However, since moving into my new house I seem to have become a lot more tasty. Like, seriously tasty. They just seem to love me… Laura stays over and I will wake up with 5 bites while she is smiling away with no itchy bites at all (but I guess she does have to put up with my sleep talking). Maybe part of this is my fault for not always keeping my door closed or being a lowsy mosquito killer (Lauren, where are you when I need you with your killer flip flop skills??), but can’t they just give me a break, please??

So far I’ve been quite tolerant of these pests and their red, itchy bites but last weekend they took it to another level. Myself and Laura went to watch my host brother and his friends, Teddy and Christopher, play football on Saturday. So we were sat, enjoying ourselves, trying not to get too bored… all fine. Then we went to leave and as we drove away my eyes started to feel really itchy and my ears felt really hot… when we got back to one of the guy’s houses so they could shower and stop being smelly, I looked in the mirror and found that my face, neck, underarms and wrists were COVERED in bites and a bright red rash. I had about 10 bites on each wrist and dozens on my arms. The sides of my eyes were red and sore, and my ears bright red and boiling hot. Eek. I felt fine but the guys freaked out that I was having a bad allergic reaction and possibly going to die… so we went to the pharmacy where they got me some pills to react to all the rash etc., which was sweet of them 🙂 Anyway, it all went away quite quickly… the bites had disappeared within a couple of hours and the rash on my wrists by the next day, and we went and enjoyed some beers so all fine in the end. But I am put off football even more from now on…

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As well as all this, I managed to stand in an ant’s nest on the way to the football and had a foot covered in ant bites too… check out my sexy foot two days later:.. Image

 

 

While I’m mentioning the guys I should also declare that they are turning me into both a geek and a boy, neither of which I am happy about. In the last few weeks I have gone to see Fast and Furious, Star Trek (!!!), After Earth (awful)… and last night Superman. But not just any screening of Superman… the midnight premier of Superman. And I loved it. I’ve been a bit ill lately and I think part of it is I don’t sleep enough… but apparently Superman is now worth having just 3 hours sleep before work. Oh well, I can sleep when I’m dead right?? 

Proud to be British

I know I don’t always like to scream my love for the UK but sometimes you can’t help but be completely in love with where you are from. Word of advice… if you’re ever bored or feeling resentful of your home, just move to the other side of the World for 5 months, and you will soon start to appreciate home more (just noticed 5 months today since I left!!). This appreciation really showed itself last night when I visited my friend Joel’s house last night. Joel did an ICYE exchange year in the UK so he has a few things in his house from there. I can honestly say that I have never been so excited to see a WH Smiths bag. I couldn’t get over the excitement of it. Just one of those things that you completely forget exist even though it’s such a normal part of life at home… so it made me miss overpriced books and chocolate. Here is me enjoying my Britishness last night…

I also hallucinated slightly today… you know when you’re walking down a street in the UK and you have to walk past a chippy, and no matter how hard you try you can’t help but smell the delicious, fried smell of greasy, salty fish and chips? And then you crave it all day so you treat yourself to eating at the local chippy that night. Well I had that today, I hallucinated smelling the British fish and chips smell… and now I just have to wait 7 months to satisfy my craving. Ouch. 

If anyone can think of a way to get proper fish and chips to me here I will owe you forever. 

Happy Birthday to two special people and a very special organisation!

This week is the 23rd anniversary of my project in Honduras!! Happy Birthday AyO!!!

I’m not sure exactly what we are doing for it but I think we are celebrating thursday and friday this week, and it will most likely include the usual chinese food and cake, so that should be a lot of fun. Kelvin is also making a display which is a replica of the front of the project so when that is finished I will post some pics of that because it’s looking pretty cool…

Tomorrow is also the birthdays of both my amazing mum in England and Laura, my best friend in Honduras! So lots to celebrate…

So Happy Birthday Mum!!! I sent you a present to your office but you failed to tell me you are in Denmark today, so hopefully you will get it tomorrow! Hope you have an amazing day, I don’t know what I would do without you…

And Laura, who I honestly don’t know what I would have done without over the last 5 months (yes, it’s 5 months this week!). We’ve fought, we’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve gone through just about everything together… we have really become like sisters, in good ways and bad ways. But I think we have both needed each other and we both appreciate that the other is always there. Laura hates birthdays but I love them… so I will make her celebrate it! We are travelling together soon but Laura will be leaving the day after we get back so our time together in Honduras in quickly evaporating and I seriously don’t know what I’m going to do when she’s gone… but anyway, Happy Birthday Laura! I hope you love your presents and we have an amazing night out this weekend 🙂

 

The Fault in Our Stars

Something a little off topic today, I have to spread the word about a new author I have discovered and how amazing he is. My friend, nicknamed Teddy (love you Teddy!!), sent me this book – The Fault in Our Stars – as I was short of books to read while I was in Utila. I will now forever be indebted to Teddy – although when he tried to read the book he said he kept falling asleep so we’ve concluded it is more of a girl’s book. At the start of the book, the main character thinks about how when an ugly guy stares at you it’s pervy and not right, but when it’s a hot guy it’s a totally different thing, so maybe girls can relate a lot more to this! But still, it is amazing… so naturally I quickly bought all of the author’s, John Green, other books and got through them all in my week in Utila. They are just amazing and he comes out with the most incredible quotes that I can’t get enough of…

…and there are so many more! So I encourage all girls everywhere to buy his books (especially Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska) and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. Fault in Our Stars is also being made into a film which I don’t know if I’ll be able to see in case it doesn’t live up to the book, but still… thank you for letting me spread the word about my new favourite author 🙂

(Hols you should get these books, you would love them!!! x)