Why I chose to volunteer in Uruguay:

I am 28 years old, I am from Germany and for my daily living I work in an office.

I wanted to get out of my daily rountine for a while where I used to worry about deadlines, the quality of my work, traffic jams and what I am going to cook tomorrow. I wanted to get out of the office and explore another country, to see how people are living in a completely different context.

Thats when I decided to take some time out and participate in a volunteering program in Uruguay.

Why Uruguay? Well, I did my exchange semester in Argentina and before starting my social work I had already spent several months in Uruguay- in a more touristy kind of way.

What fascinated me the most about Uruguay are the immigrants from mostly Spain and Italy who introduced their culture in a very new way. A typical Uruguayan is now 2 or 3 generations away from those immigrants and is characterized by a very social and friendly attitude, passion for football and barbecue, the addiction to mate and dulce the leche, their unique way of speaking Spanish and their hospitality.

 

Did you know that Uruguay was once very advanced in their politics in terms of their democrary and womens rights? And it has proven to maintain, to this day, it’s progresive politics by legalizing recreative marihuana consumption, gay mariage and abortion. It was quite wealthy at some point in time, prooven by those stunning old buildings which nowadays sometimes are barely maintained and partly abandoned. In Uruguay you can find many rich people having vacation houses in Piriapolis, Punta del Este and Punta del Diablo but also many poor. The poorest of them living in casas de chapa (houses made of tin plate) and revising the trash.

The complexity and multilayers of Uruguays history and society created all together a special flair which has raised my interest and made me want more.

 

 

How I got started:

I decided to participate in the voluting program offered by Spanish Herradura and started with a 4 weeks language course when I came to Uruguay. My Spanish communication level was quite good at that time, but there were some flaws in the Grammar. As I started my language course in Winter, there were fewer students so I was able to cherish the lessons, being mainly alone or with one more student.

While taking classes, Margo (the lovely owner of Spanish Herradura), remitted my CV to different places and finally introduced me to two different projects: the first one is a small house where two women dedicated themselves to work with children with a small mental disability (see also the blog “Belgian volunteer describing her experience working with Young Adults with a small mental disability”) and the second one being one of the biggest NGOs in Uruguay, dedicated to the personal development and creative transformation of the society through their involvement in a wide range of different projects. Margo set up meetings with coordinators from both projects so I was given the chance to meet with the people working on the project and gain a better insight of the work I was supposed to do.  Finally, alongside the coordinator of the big NGO, we were able to quickly find one out of the different projects that suited my interests:

I was going to participate in the education of adolescents and young adults in a youth center!

 

The age of the kids ranges between 12 and 17 years, from different institutional origins and socio-economic conditions. The youth center is managing a program to promote insertion, re-education and educational permanence and offers various socio-cultural spaces and trainings.

I was not really sure of what to expect, as this work was completely different to what I was used to do but nevertheless very excited to get started!

 

1st day at work (meeting with the team):

I started working at the youth center on a Monday as the entire day is dedicated to a big staff reunion- the perfect occasion to introduce me to my new colleagues. My future team consisted of around 6 people who gave me a warm welcome and I was able to ask some general questions related to work. In the upcoming hours I gained insight on what my work was going to be like: we discussed upcoming projects like a camping that was going to be realised in the next month, the scheduled activities of the week, issues regarding the adolescents, exchanged experiences and shared some mate (of course).

 

I was told that generally speaking, in the mornings different topics are taught to those adolescents who do not go to school or do not participate in a formation. In the evenings there is a small group meeting with the educators before and after the activities to discuss the plans for the day as well as any recent happinings. The afternoon activities with the adolescents then consisted of doing homework together, sports, playing tambores in the streets and several creative activities… and as a must: a small merienda in between which is a snack during the afternoon.

 

 

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