By Robin Andrews
VE Volunteer from North Carolina, USA
When I first started looking into volunteering with VE Global, I remember reading the part that said “four month minimum commitment” and wondering if I would be able to commit for that long. Well, eight months later I realized that four months was simply NOT enough time.
While volunteering, I worked in Hogar San Francisco, a group home for 30 girls ranging from 3 to 20 years old. I was so nervous in those first few months. I couldn’t understand the Chilean Spanish. I was confused by the customs and I didn’t know what my role was in the hogar. In the first month, I just went through the motions of being there every day and trying to get by doing what they asked me to do or what I thought they were saying! In the second month, I was beginning to feel more comfortable in this new environment. I was getting to know the girls as well as the tías and feeling like I knew my role in the hogar. The third month came and I was really starting to have fun and enjoying my time with the girls. I had started to get very close with a few of the girls, but certainly not all of them.
However, at the end of my fourth month working at the hogar is when it really clicked for me and when I think the girls really began to trust me. Something had begun to slowly change and I don’t think I fully realized it until Christmas time at the hogar. It was Christmas Eve and we were all having a big lunch in the patio with all the girls, the tías and a few of the volunteers. There was a big meal with presents and awards for things like “Best Helper in the Hogar,” “Most Improved in School,” and my personal favorite, “Girl of the Year.” After the awards were passed out and we were all sitting around happy and full, I started talking with one of the older girls. I don’t remember how we led in to this, but I think I said something about how special this day had been for me and how happy I was to be included. She looked at me and said “Tía, you’re one of us now. You’re part of the family and part of the hogar.” It brought me to tears then and it still brings me to tears writing it now.
You see, when I first came to Chile, one of the current volunteers explained something to me that I always tried to remember. The hogar was not just where I worked; it was HOME to these kids, where they lived every day. This was their house and if they wanted to watch TV or run around in their pajamas it was ok, because this was their home. Imagine someone from another country coming in to your home every day. It would be weird, right? It meant the world to me that she said I was part of the family. They all considered themselves to be sisters and now I was in that family too.
I now know why there is the four month minimum commitment, it took that time to develop those relationships with the girls and gain their trust. They’ve all been through so much in life and trust is not something that any of the girls easily give away. To gain their trust is truly one of the greatest gifts in the world. After experiencing something like this, how could I ever think about leaving right away?
The next four months were the best months during my whole time. I was more comfortable and closer with all of the girls. We laughed harder and had more meaningful conversations about anything from boys at school to how they felt when their mom didn’t show up for a visit. They felt they could turn to me when they needed something. That trust had been built, and it took time to get there.