I have read a couple of articles about the ineffectiveness of or even problems caused by volunteers for charitable organisations and wanted to describe my experience with volunteers in our organisation SOG here in Argentina.
The reason we started here in Buenos Aires was because we are totally new at this social change game and we needed to start in an environment where we had as much support as possible. Through Valeria’s contacts here in Buenos Aires we are functioning in a space where we don’t pay rent. This is huge cost saver for us. The space is owned by a organisation called MTD.
Through other contacts of hers we have a steady flow of volunteers to assist us in the day to day execution of our program. We receive these volunteers through an organisation called Fundacion SES. The volunteers have been young Europeans between the ages of 19 and 25. Usually they are here for a period of between 2 months to a year.
Martina is a 19 year old from Austria. She is volunteering with us in the kitchen cooking for the children. She has been with us for 4 months and planning on a total of 6. It’s quite a funny dynamic. Our other main-stayer in the kitchen at the moment is a 73 year old Argentinian women from the community named Kristina. So you could say we have cultural and generational diversity in the kitchen.
I cannot express how thankful we are for Martina’s presence in the kitchen. She is polite, friendly and a great cook. In reality she is learning a lot and even said that she has starting experimenting with cooking at home for herself due to what she has been exposed to at Food for Thought. On the other hand, from SOG’s perspective, having an extra set of hands in the kitchen gives us flexibility in our roles, which means that we have more time and can concentrate on other important aspects of the program, thus delivering an improved product to the children.
We have a few kids with behaviour problems. One boy in particular has a little more trouble than most managing himself in group situations. In reality this boy needs constant support. For the last 2 months we have had a Italian volunteer called Simone. He is quite a figure at about 12 foot tall and always with a large grin on his face.
There has been a noticeable difference in our little troublesome lad since Simone has been around. I am making a judgement from what I have witnessed over a short period of time in this area, but I don’t think there are many great male role models in this young boy’s life, so I believe it is great for him to be exposed to males who have his best interests at heart. I see it as a different demonstration of what it is to be a man, a man who is not solely focused on himself, compared to that in what he is seeing around himself now. The more he is exposed to it the more he can see it as an option for himself in the future.
I have stated a couple of examples here of how children’s lives have been enriched because of an international volunteer program. I’m not saying there will never be problems, but for us, our effectiveness in achieving our goals as an organisation is greatly improved by the presence of these volunteers. So for us….Volunteers rule!