Katia Gibson - General Care Projects in Mexico
After just one hour back in the USA after returning from my trip to Mexico, I was already longing to go back to the rich culture, the loving people and the delicious food.
At only 16 years old, I was the youngest person to have ever volunteered in Mexico, apart from those on the High School Specials. I was excited, yet nervous to start. My parents and I were both apprehensive about me spending five weeks alone in Mexico with Projects Abroad, as this was my first time travelling alone in a foreign country. However, thanks to my strong Spanish and more importantly, the dedicated Projects Abroad staff in Guadalajara, any worry vanished in my first hour with the programme. Keep in mind, going abroad alone was an extreme for me but Projects Abroad made Mexico feel like home.
I loved this experience more than anything else I have ever done in my life, and it made saying goodbye the hardest thing. Rosa, Miguel, Jonatán and Jerylee each personally spent many hours with me in order to make my placement and experience the best it could be. They checked in on me when I was ill, took me to some of the best spots in the city and rescued me from my dilemma at the airport!
You might think that when you go to Mexico, you won’t feel very safe. On the contrary, my host family’s neighbourhood in Colonia del Fresno was the most charming, family-oriented neighbourhood, and some of my best moments were walking through Calle Fresno, the local market, and being able to indulge in the delicious tamales de elote or bring back a litre of horchata.
My Care placement in Guadalajara
For four of the five weeks I spent volunteering abroad, I worked in the Divina Providencia Centro de Desarrollo Infantil nursery, with babies as young as three months and toddlers up to the age of four. The nursery, although well-maintained by the staff, was grateful for the help I provided daily. In the mornings, I helped to feed and care for the babies, giving me experience with very young children. In the short time I was there, I got to witness some of the babies reach crucial developmental stages, such as learning to eat with a spoon and beginning to talk.
For the rest of the morning, I would go downstairs to a dining room, where I helped feed the toddlers breakfast, and got to make precious conversation with the little ones. The day then consisted of the kids doing their routine exercises, counting in English and Spanish, praying to “Papa Dios,” and doing an educational activity and arts & crafts. During all of this, I was helping to discipline the kids and facilitate the activities. The help was greatly needed there, as there were 20 toddlers and just one teacher in charge of all of them. Most of the kids were quite troublesome, but so incredibly sweet, and it was so nice to see their individual personalities come out in the weeks I worked there.
Teaching English at a summer holiday programme
For one week during my stay, I switched to teaching English in a summer holiday programme. The kids were older, with one group aged 4-7 and another aged 8-12, and it was amazing to see how well they absorbed the language. There were only two of us teaching – myself and another volunteer, Jasmin – and there was no structure, so we got to come up with our own lesson plans and activities to teach the children English vocabulary every day.
One of the most rewarding moments of my trip was at the end of the week, when these kids, who had only ever spoken Spanish, were able to have a conversation with me in English, telling me “good morning,” “thank you,” and “goodbye.” I don’t think any other programme would have given me such a hands-on opportunity as Projects Abroad did with my volunteer placement.
Reflecting on my experience in Mexico
At the end of the trip, the host family was like my own family. Irene and Jose Luis are an older couple who treated me like their own child and I loved sharing stories with them over dinner. For my host mom’s birthday, I treated her to a special front row seat to the Ballet Folclorico in the Teatro Degollado, and she was so happy! I became best friends with my roommate and fellow volunteer, Jasmin, and we were able to share so many adventures together. I also got to connect with many volunteers from all over the world, and now I have friends from Belgium, Canada, England, and all over the world.
If you are questioning whether to join Projects Abroad or join another volunteering organisation, I would 100% recommend this experience. I would also highly recommend going to Mexico, where people say “con permiso” as they pass, “que le vaya bien” as you leave, and treat everybody with such respect and kindness. After researching many other programmes, I am happy I chose this exact programme, because it gave me the flexibility, the support and the authenticity that I know no other organisation out there can deliver.
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.