It’s is my story of re-learning some of the most essential lessons in life while volunteering in kids’ camp on the other side of the world – Guatemala. Being a part of a cross-cultural environment and keeping it real, makes me reminisce about the opportunities to travel around the world and become more conscious of various good causes.
“You’re going to volunteer in Guatemala? How crazy are you? Can’t you find a local place to do so?” – That’s what I heard once I told people I’m going to Central America for a month to volunteer as a leader at the international children’s camp. Of course, I could’ve done something easier, but I was craving for a challenge. I’m a restless soul that needed to get away from an everyday routine, wanted to take time off my computer, and avoid Lithuanian winter. Being one of twelve international leaders for 48 eleven-year-olds was quite tough. But I wouldn’t change it for the world, and I encourage others to think of doing something similar.
I’m a restless soul that needed to get away from an everyday routine, wanted to take time off my computer, and avoid Lithuanian winter.
Back in 2010, I was a participant at a CISV camp myself. This particular experience was indeed a game-changer in my life. Living in an international environment, communicating only in English, and not having the ability to use a phone helped in building real friendships that last until this day. So, when I received a call with a proposal to lead kids’ camp voluntarily during winter, I instantly agreed. On the early morning of Christmas (yep, December 25th, 5 am), four eleven-year-olds and I left for Guatemala for a CISV Village camp.
Ambassadors of the world
These camps focus on different stages of group development and use the method of education ‘learning through doing’. Progressive child psychologist Dr. Doris Allen believed that by creating opportunities for children of different cultures to come together to learn and make friends, they would grow up to become ambassadors for a more just and peaceful world (find out more here). As a leader in The Village, you are responsible for all – creating, executing, and running activities. I loved the organization’s content areas. All events are supposed to fall into – human rights, conflict and resolution, sustainable development, and diversity. During activities involving these sensitive topics, kids faced various emotions, like anger and sadness, and had to make tough mock-up decisions. Discussions after raised significant questions about real-life situations in different parts of the world that kids come from.
In life, people fail to remember that you can find happiness in the smallest of things which kids do all the time – like taking a nap.
As a leader, you have to face different perspectives, manage a dialogue within a cross-cultural environment, and work on your time management skills. While you work hard and try to stay focused on kids during the day, you can unwind and bond with leaders during the night. Spending quality time together and exchanging our feelings has helped us to build closer friendships and understand each other better. But this was not the most important thing I learned while in Guatemala. While dealing with the kids every day, you realize that communication is the key. They need trust, support, and encouragement like any of us. We tend to forget to congratulate one another or support each other when various events happen in our lives. It’s ok to ask for help when you need to. We somehow see this as a sign of weakness, but it’s fine to say that you don’t know something. In life, people fail to remember that you can find happiness in the smallest of things which kids do all the time – like taking a nap. Nowadays, we forget to enjoy our morning coffee, blooming trees, or the sweet sound of birds in the morning. These few life lessons ponder on my mind from time to time and always make me smile. How happy those kids were to have this experience and not only learn from each other but also teach the adults without even knowing themselves.
Social detox was one of my goals during the month in Central America.
In this world, where communication is increasingly digital and remote, volunteering is an activity often requiring teamwork and physical presence. Numerous studies have shown face-to-face contact enhances both your physical and mental health (find out more here). Social detox was one of my goals during the month in Central America. Since I started working closely with social media last year, I wanted to get away, relax, and freshen up on ideas. This option was perfect since kids cannot use any electronic devices throughout the camp, and leaders are not allowed to use phones during activities. It helped me focus on real conversations and see how kids are forming friendships without knowing the background of one another nor their interests on various social networks.
You feel motivated and useful once you see the impact that you make. While working with kids, that feeling comes very quickly. It is mind-expanding to think like an 11-year-old again. We tend to give up so many things when we grow up. Children have no shame in who they are and how they act. It takes away the irony and sarcasm, but it makes you become more real. After a month, I realized that empathy, patience, kindness, and understanding – are the qualities kids admire in a leader. They are essential in any environment. Those who are often recognized as not having anything to offer may be offering the most precious gift of all – the ability to be our most authentic selves.
Those who are often recognized as not having anything to offer may be offering the richest gift of all – the ability to be our truest selves.
When people hear ‘volunteering,’ they often think about animal shelters, homeless people, or helping the elder ones. Even during the current situation in the world, we can find ways to serve a population. There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer locally, and the change can be done in your community. I chose non-formal education and believe that during that month, together with kids, we have learned more than we would ever learn while sitting in an office. No matter what type of volunteering it would be – it’s hard work, which requires motivation and ambition. But it is rewarding and helps expand your network, learn new things, and broaden your perspective. It is easy to get caught up in our own lives and lose sight of the value of helping others. If you haven’t heard, volunteering is right for your mental health (find out more here). Through willingness, we can uplift our consciousness. I came back, feeling accomplished, happy, and refreshed. This experience has led me to self-improvement, more confidence, and even inner peace. As Sir McCartney said, money can’t buy me, love, so kids’ laughter, hugs, and smiles were the rewards I was happy to get the most.