I have started my two-months-long adventure 4 weeks ago. It is crazy to think that half of our time as EVS volunteers in Paysandú, Uruguay is up…
Although I have been dreaming about travelling and volunteering in Latin America for many years, I arrived with a reasonably blank canvas. I expected to feel a certain way, and had notions about the culture of Latin America, but did not have many specific expectations about Uruguay. I hoped to learn and share and to flow with life. I expected and hoped to discover more about myself and the world, but did not anticipate such an intense period of growth and learning. The last couple weeks have been filled with moments of joy, feeling free and alive, alongside with confronting fears, discomfort and expected and unexpected challenges.
It would require the length of a novel, or at least that of a long short-story to cover all, so I will mostly focus on my experience in one of the institutions where I work.
After my first day at Asociación Dame Tu Mano, a sheltered workspace for people living with disability, my head was buzzing from trying to comprehend all the new information in Spanish. Despite my fierce attempts at cramming as much Spanish into my head as possible in the three weeks between my acceptance in the program and my departure, the first days proved to be a real challenge. Not to mention getting used to the characteristic accent of the people from Uruguay! (Their pronunciation is almost identical to the Argentinan accent, but shhhh… Neither Argentinians nor Uruguayans would be happy to accept this 😊).
Despite the far from perfect linguistic comprehension on my part, connecting with the members of the organization has been nothing but wonderful from the beginning. I had several fears before coming here, such as, whether I would be able to give something valuable, or whether my knowledge of the language would be sufficient, etc. Although my doubts did not disappear instantly, I felt from the first meeting that I was at the right place.
The organization is completely run by the parents of the workers and volunteers. As the members of the commission would often say: the fact that they are still up and running is thanks to all the love that holds the place together.
Many times, as I was reading articles or blogs recounting similar experiences, I had found them exaggerating or simply utterly cheesy… However, after countless hours spent together in the last month, I will have to be part of this crowd as well. I have not only become aware of several limiting unconscious mental models I held due to working with the members of Dame Tu Mano, but the amount of love and acceptance that I have felt taken me my surprise. I consider myself extremely lucky, and I am grateful to all the cooperative components of the universe for having been placed here.
Luckily, with conscious effort and the ample listening and speaking practice that the situation provides (as very few locals speak any English at all), I have managed to significantly improve my language skills within a short period of time. While I still have a lot to learn, after one month of being here I managed to reach a level of fluency that allows my integration into the daily activities. Apart from feeling more comfortable and being able to learn more about the local culture, this also means that I can also be much more useful for the organizations that I am working with. I am truly grateful for this as although continuing my journey of discovery is always on the top of my list, I have also been looking for a professional challenge.
Initially, I was only supposed to support the work of the association by setting up a website and a social media communication plan. However, after a period of participant observation and discussions with Noelia, an organizational psychologist that I am collaborating with, I decided to propose a complex organizational diagnosis. As the commission eagerly welcomed the idea that I developed with the help of Noelia, and Janka, a fellow Hungarian volunteer, I am currently busy doing interviews and organizing focus groups.
After the unhurried and sometimes quite challenging start of the first month, the second half of my EVS seems to bring tons of adventures and will not allow a minute of slowing down. Especially, as I will also have the opportunity to participate in a contemporary dance performance of a local group, and therefore, will be having rehearsals every night for the coming weeks. Looking forward to every minute of it!