NZ Volunteer Tells Her Story
New Zealand woman, Amanda Thomas, talks about her life-changing experience volunteering with NPH in Mexico and Honduras.
September 30, 2015 - New Zealand
When I first announced I was moving to Mexico, I got some strange looks. Like most other New Zealanders, all I'd really heard of Mexico was amazing food and drug cartels.
I gave up my nice government job, a healthy pay check each fortnight, and committed to volunteering at a home for orphaned and abandoned children in Mexico for 13 months. It was the most dramatic decision I've ever made, but I don't regret it for a second.
Growing up I had always wanted to learn a new language and live in a different culture. After graduating from university with a double degree in Law and Arts, I worked in public policy. It was fantastic, but after three years I also wanted to see the other side of the coin by working for a NGO. Volunteering with NPH combined this with living in a new country, working on my Spanish, and getting to travel.
NPH is short for Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos, which means "Our Little Brothers and Sisters" in Spanish. It is an organisation based in nine countries throughout Latin America, and provides homes, education and a family life for orphaned, abandoned or at-risk children, or children living in extreme poverty.
Beginning in June 2014, I was the Communications Officer for NPH Mexico. I was the liaison between NPH's homes in Mexico and their fundraising offices around the world. I provided them with the statistics, information and photos they needed, as well as writing the annual report for the Mexico home.
The work schedule was demanding. In addition to my work in communications, I spent afternoons, evenings and weekends with the teenagers living at the home. I would help them with their English homework, play sport or take a zumba class with them, help serve meals, or just hang out and watch telenovelas (Mexican soap operas - truly the worst TV I have ever seen).
I worked alongside volunteers from all over the world, including Italy, Germany, the US, Belgium and Canada. The volunteer community was fantastic. Together we laughed at the crazy moments, cried over our frustrations, and travelled together during our weekends off.
What attracted me to NPH was the opportunity to volunteer for an extended period of time, the extensive support volunteers receive (housing, food and a small stipend is provided), and the opportunity to work in a professional role that used my skills and work experience. There are a variety of different volunteer roles available, from care giving to physiotherapy, occupational therapy, teaching, nursing, project management, translation, social work, or running a girls’ empowerment programme. Basically if you have a skill, there is an opportunity for you!
I did have some Spanish under my belt from university, and a semester abroad in Spain. But Spanish knowledge isn't essential, just a willingness to learn and do your best to pick up the language.
NPH operates a child sponsorship programme, which I got to see in action. What surprised me most was the amazing relationship between sponsors (called "godparents") and their sponsored child (called "godchildren"). In addition to receiving regular updates on their godchild's progress and exchanging correspondence, godparents have the opportunity to visit their godchildren in Mexico. I saw godparents attend graduation ceremonies, spend time with their godchildren in the home, or take them out for meals or to the water park. Many of these children don't have much family involved in their lives, so their relationship with their godparents is a very real and meaningful part of their lives. I often saw photos of their godparents pasted inside the children's lockers.
On the last night before the graduating high school kids moved to their new home, I helped some of the girls pack their things. They spoke to me about their memories of NPH, their plans for university, and their hopes and dreams. It was such a privilege to share a year with these amazing young adults and children. They have been through more than I could ever imagine, and here they are, planning whether they want to be doctors, lawyers or engineers.
My year in Mexico absolutely had its difficulties and challenges, but they were far outweighed by the reward of seeing the high school class graduate, or seeing children so happy and thriving in their new home at NPH. I learnt so much from living in a different culture and language, about how NGOs work, and how to adapt and respond to all the challenges that this brings.
I wasn't ready to leave Central America, so in August I began working for NPH in Honduras. I continue to work in communications, and I am also working in projects, which helps to raise money for different needs in the home, be it for the food budget or building a new clinic.
NPH has left an indelible mark on my life, and I wouldn't change it for the world.
Communications Officer, Honduras