Outreach360 Volunteer Intern Guest Writer: Katie Sullivan
My name is Katie Sullivan and I served as a long-term volunteer for Outreach360 in Nicaragua in 2014. I hope that by sharing about my time there it will encourage some of you to go and experience the magic for yourselves!
I have spent a total of seven weeks in Nicaragua with Outreach360. I took three week-long trips in 2013, 2014, and 2015 while a student at the College of William & Mary, as well as spent a month there as an individual volunteer in 2014. There was something really special about the experience that kept me coming back for more.
By now you may have realized all of the wonderful things that you personally could get out of a volunteer trip—there are a lot! They include a chance to experience a new country and culture, testing yourself outside of your comfort zone, and practicing your Spanish! This is only the start of it. You will also find yourself meeting inspiring people, eating delicious foods—I’m looking at you, plantains—and learning new things about yourself. I could go on.
So yes, volunteering with Outreach360 will change your life and be one of the most meaningful and memorable experiences you ever have. But if you’re like me and many of the other young people I traveled with as a college student, you may have another question: will the work I do really make a difference?
The international volunteer is a smart and thoughtful person. You want to make sure that your time and money is going to an organization that is having a real and positive impact in the communities in which it works. I’m here to tell you that yes, Outreach360 is doing great things. How do I know?
1. Education is the key to empowerment.
When communities are educated, they are uplifted in a sustainable way. Educated children go on to get higher-paying jobs and then give their money and skills back to their community as adults. By using education as their means of serving, Outreach360 is creating a generation that will change their situation for themselves.
2. Every volunteer makes a difference.
I think a lot of people are discouraged from a service trip because they think they cannot have any impact in a short amount of time. One of Outreach360’s ten principles is about just this: “Poco a poco [little by little]”. You may not change the world or even one child’s life while you’re there, but your work combined with that of the volunteers who came before you and will come after you are the total package. Don’t get discouraged; it takes real people committing and going to make this difference! If you serve as a long-term or Caminos volunteer, you’re more likely than ever to see real change over time.
One week I worked closely with a student named Marlon, who needed extra attention in English at the time (there we are above). Marlon was struggling to learn new vocabulary words and there was a test coming up, so I worked with him constantly. Like I said, he didn’t become fluent in a week but seeing the progress that one student could make with a little one-on-one time lifted my spirits and gave me a lot of confidence. The more volunteers, the more one-on-one time the kids get. This is why we need YOU!
3. You don't have to be a professional English teacher to volunteer.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but it really is enough that you speak English and just want to work hard. Especially when working with children, immersion is the most effective way of teaching a foreign language. Studies show that children have brains like a sponge when it comes to acquiring language, so the quickest path to fluency for them is to hear a language all the time. As a result, just by speaking English with your students you are teaching them. Staff members will make sure that you are following their curriculum and that your lesson plans are up to snuff. That said, professional teachers are more than welcome and always contribute immensely as volunteers!
4. Learning English will change lives in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.
It opens doors to lucrative industries like tourism. The future employment possibilities for Outreach360 students are greatly expanded by their English skills. So they’ll get those higher-paying jobs one day and have new opportunities as a result. Your students could even become foreign diplomats one day! Dream big!
5. Outreach360 has a great relationship with local communities.
It was important to me when I first arrived in Nicaragua to see that Outreach360 employs a number of locals. This inclusion of voices from the community ensures that the organization is working toward goals that are really wanted in the area. I have seen that as Outreach360 expands in Nicaragua, so too does the number of locals they involve in their projects. Additionally, staff members have regular contact with the parents of their students, giving them a voice in their children’s education.
So, if you’ve been on the fence about volunteering internationally, I’m telling you that Outreach360 is the place for you. Take this opportunity to be a long-term or Caminos volunteer and help be the change!