The countdown has already begun – I’m finishing up my time volunteering and in just 80 days I’ll begin my backpacking journey around South America! It seems a little silly to count every single day at this point, but there’s something reassuring about being able to state the number of days left in my volunteering commitment. Don’t get me wrong, I am still going to be heartbroken saying goodbye to the kids in this community, but I’m ready to tie up loose ends and see what life post-Huaycán will look like.
It’s hard to believe that I’ve been volunteering without pay, living from my hard-earned savings for over nine months now. When I first arrived, I was a bit overwhelmed by the length of my commitment. It was hard to imagine completing a full year, and for good reason: the two other volunteers who had started their year-long commitment at the same time as me are no longer here. It’s a challenging commitment to fulfill because of so many factors — personal, professional, emotional, spiritual. For me, I have known that I would complete my time because I had already saved money for years, moved out of my apartment, quit two jobs, packed up my life, and said goodbye to my friends and family to be here, and I needed to see it through, just to see how things would turn out on the other end. On top of that, I wasn’t ready to leave and restart my life in the US (though I think it would have been interesting to backpack South America for a seriously extended length of time with the extra cash I’ve spent over the course of my volunteer year!).
As I write this, we’re almost halfway through the month of April, which means I only have about 2.5 months left. I met with our director on Monday to talk about the major projects I’ll be finishing up in this time, and she said that June will practically be over before it begins, since we’ll be celebrating the nonprofit’s anniversary early in the month, and then I’ll be packing up and training my successor in the last two weeks. Considering we’ve already gotten this far into April, I’m confident that the time will pass quickly, with interesting projects to keep me busy. For some reason, March was challenging, perhaps because I didn’t do very much in an effort to save money for my Semana Santa trip to Huaraz (photos to come!). I spent a lot of time reading, doing yoga, and wandering alongside the coast on the Malecón in Miraflores and Barranco, but mostly conserving my energy.
Reflecting back on my time spent in this volunteer position in Huaycán, I absolutely do not regret taking this time out of my career to explore a different avenue and strengthen and gain more skills. When things are hard, I wonder what it would like to be traveling instead, but that would not have enabled me to discover how much I love working with kids and to feel comfortable in this community. I don’t really think my Spanish has improved at all from my time here (it was mostly fluent to begin with), but I know that I don’t worry about my accent when speaking anymore, and that I’m finally able to roll my r’s (most of the time) and soften other American-sounding r’s when possible. Most importantly, though, I think completing this volunteer commitment has made me a great resource on what to consider when choosing a program. I’m still working on compiling those ideas, and want to share them here soon.
I also think being 31 while doing this volunteer position made it both easier and harder. I think people who are older struggle to adapt to the volunteer house (which is very dorm-like) and to give up normal routines like cooking, grocery shopping, cleaning, hobbies, and personal commitments. Those of us used to big cities have found it a lot harder to adjust to not really wandering the streets and heading to a neighborhood café to relax. But I think age and experience often leads to more patience with others, an ability to see joys and frustrations as part of a cycle that will change over time, and a willingness to learn from others. In my case, anyway. These are skills that have developed for me over the last few years, and they’ve served me well. Living in Huaycán has tested these skills, but I always try to come back to a place of compassion, flexibility, and patience. Some days this works better than others. 🙂
Even though I’ve been silent on the blog for the past month, I want to share my photos from Easter Island and Huaraz, my wanderings around Miraflores and Barranco, and other moments captured with the kids and around Huaycán. I also hope to post some pictures of the delicious food I’ve been eating here, and talk about my yoga routine! That way, when I get my backpacking journey underway on July 1, I’ll be able to keep up with my blog and share my travels. 🙂