Experience of a Volunteer
New culture, new language, new people. By the end, it was an unforgettable year for Willis!
June 13, 2017 - Guatemala
My name is Willis Allen and I am from Long Beach, California. I decided to come to Guatemala after finishing my degree from Chapman University in Orange, California. I have a younger brother and sister, so I have always felt a close connection with family… and believe me when I say that it is no different here at NPH Guatemala.
I was lucky enough to be blessed with a group of boys ages 10 to 16 during my time volunteering here at the home, and these boys have changed the way I look at the world. The amount of gratitude that they have for life has inspired me to push on through even the hardest times. While it was hard for me at first (coming here and not speaking any Spanish), we have created a bond of friendship that will last a lifetime. The kids feel like they are all my little brothers now, and it has been a privilege to watch them grow as men, citizens, and human beings this year.
When I first took the job down here I was only in charge of activities and recreation, and that would prove to be pretty tough at first. I didn't have a grasp of the language and felt like it was a burden to others when I would sit in on meetings and sheepishly mutter “sí” or “no” to every question regardless of if it was a yes or no question. It felt weird, as this was the first time I was this far out of my comfort zone, and my confidence started to take a bit of a hit as a result. I was in this job for the first six months of my time here, and really enjoyed that I spent time with the children every day, regardless of how bad my Spanish was.
After six months I hit a bit of a turning point and Spanish started to feel a bit easier. I no longer had to pay attention to everything that I said in order to understand it. I could passively listen, and my responses seemed to start coming with ease, as I was conditioned to hearing and speaking in Spanish. A spot also opened in the primary school because one of the teachers just finished her volunteer commitment. I took the job as the new English teacher in primary school with excitement, not knowing what to expect. At first it was a bit tough getting the kids to pay attention; they would ask me why they had to study English, if they were ever going to use it, etc. This reminded me a lot of myself at that age with Spanish (to my dismay), and I felt that I was able to make that immediate connection and explain to them that it would be important in their lives regardless of what viewpoint they had on life at the moment. Teaching became easier and easier as time passed and at the end of my year here I feel as if I have come into my own as a teacher.
I am so incredibly grateful for my time here at NPHG. This year has been filled with new experiences, friendship, passion, opportunity, and resilience, and ultimately changed my life and the way I look at the world. I firmly believe that I am a much better and well-rounded global citizen after spending a year of my life in Guatemala, and I am very thankful for that. I sincerely wish that everybody had the opportunity to spend a year of their lives in a foreign land performing a service job. I believe that it would ultimately lead to a more understanding, loving, and better functioning society. Regardless of what race, creed, or ethnicity one belongs to, people at their root are all the same and have the same basic needs, and that is something that this year has definitely taught me.
In all affairs it's a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted. This year has changed my perspective while making me a more resilient person, and I can not be more thankful to have had this experience with the kids by my side.