Help, learn, explore: volunteering in Mexico

I have just returned from a three month sabbatical where I spent some time Mexico, my favourite country in the world, and then travelled by road from Santiago, Chile all the way to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.  During my sabbatical I did some volunteering in Oaxaca, Mexico while also studying Spanish.  The city itself is beautiful, surrounded by incredible mountains and one of the gastronomic capitals of Mexico.  However, it is also one of the poorest states in the country where even basic sanitation for those in extreme poverty is an issue.

I volunteered at the Centro de Esperanza Infantil in Oaxaca, which is a day centre for children.  Education is at the core of their belief as a way of helping to break the cycle of poverty.  The children range from aged two to young adults of university age.  They come either before or after school where volunteers with Spanish language skills help them with their homework and organise arts and crafts activities or take them to play football.  All the children also get lunch, ensuring they have at least one nutritional meal a day.

My first day there was of the hardest things I have ever done- to walk into a centre full of children who have no idea who you are, who know and trust the long-term volunteers, and who you can only communicate with in broken Spanish – was tough.  However, I persisted and by day three, once I had won them over with my range of arts and crafts activities, they were amazing to be around and a great help with my Spanish language development too.  I ended up teaching English to three students and becoming very attached to a few children in particular.  Leaving them and saying goodbye was incredibly emotional and I was especially touch by the fact that I was given presents by three of the mothers as a thank you for the time I has spent with their children.

I am now sponsoring a 12 year old boy called Pablo – sponsorship is a commitment as it will need to be done for his whole school life but it means he is now part of the programme so he can join in at the centre, get a nutritious meal each day and have all the school supplies he needs to be able to participate in education.  Oaxaca is a second home to me now and I am determined to return as often as I can and continue to keep up my contact/volunteering with this charity!