So I have been volunteering at the institution for over a week and gotten into a bit of a routine. As a first time international volunteer, I had no idea what to expect. Here’s what I’ve learned from my volunteer duty in Cartagena.
The Only Volunteer
Surprisingly there are no other full time volunteers. About once a week a couple of Europeans will drop by for a few hours, never to be seen again. They are with another organization whose name I haven’t caught but I am surprised they don’t return or that no one else is volunteering here. Honestly, for the number of children, they don’t have enough staff. I really feel like everything I do helps the institution.
A Typical Day on Volunteer Duty in Cartagena
I usually get to the institution around 8:30am. I have tried to arrive earlier but haven’t seen a bus between 730-8am so gave up on that. The bus I need comes to my stop at 8am or after so that’s what I take.
I work with the same class of two-year olds every day. Their teacher is named Luz, she is 23, and very hard working and pretty. She was the star of the play earlier this week!
Every morning is different. One day we watched videos and sang songs. Another day Luz read to the class and then they played with Legos. On Monday we played on the playground: swings, slide, merry-go-round and sand. That was fun and I took lots of photos of the kids on the rides.
Today they danced and played music, while wearing sombreros, which was very photo friendly!
The Hardest Part of Volunteer Duty: Lunch
After the fun morning activities, which also always includes fruit and water time, we get down to business. Hand washing and lunch! Lunch is at 11am and it is still a war zone. We are supposed to try to feed them but only the good ones let me and they’d be eating anyway. A lot of them don’t want to eat which I think is normal for kids. Lunch usually consists of some soup, rice, some meat or chicken, and maybe a plantain. There are a couple of the kids who will eat on their own and they do eat. Most don’t.
Things I have witnessed at lunch:
- A little girl spill an entire tray full of food into her lap
- Little ones sleeping in their food
- Children refusing to eat
- Kids pouring all their food onto the table and then playing with it.
- A little boy with his penis out and a group of kids looking at the teeny thing.
Lunch only takes 30 minutes but it is the most intense time of the day.
After Lunch at The Institute
Lunch is the craziest time of day. So crazy that we spend a lot of time washing the kids afterwards. Usually we just wash their hands and faces, but sometimes it gets more extreme. There was one boy I would have hosed down if I could. Instead I had to wash his head, chest and stomach after lunch!
After washing, we take off their dirty clothes and swap them for clean. Usually just the shirts but sometimes everything is dirty. Each child brings a bag each day with a change of clothes, a blanket, and a notebook, so we go in there and change them.
After lunch, from 12-2, is nap time. They are cute when they nap. Some (the same ones every day) take longer to get to sleep than others, but they usually all sleep. The teacher writes notes in each of their books and we have our lunch at 1pm. I also find time to study some Spanish and write this blog.
End of The Day
Then we wake them up and get them ready for their parents. They each get a liquid yogurts snack and some kind of cookie and we try to keep them from getting too hyper before their parents come to get them.
The parents range: some look like teens and others like grandparents. They probably are.
So that’s a typical day for me at volunteer duty in Cartagena and will be my days for a couple more weeks. Very different in every way from my normal life. Plus it’s all in Spanish.