Every year, Maximo Nivel hosts a special holiday volunteer project in each of our destinations – Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru. The holiday volunteer projects are based on a set itinerary, rotating international volunteers to different projects throughout the week. Field managers coordinate with our local communities to determine specific needs and schedules and accommodate the communities with volunteers accordingly.
This week, we wanted to bring you more insight into our holiday programs, so we sat down with Betty. Betty has participated in other volunteer programs before and enrolled for her first holiday volunteer program last year in Guatemala. She will be returning for this year’s holiday program in Costa Rica. Here’s what she had to say about her experience.
Hi, Betty. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. Do you want to first start by introducing yourself?
Sure! My name is Betty. I’m originally from a tiny town called Breckenridge, Colorado, but moved to San Francisco about 10 years ago for work. Working in the tech industry has its advantages and I have plenty of opportunities to work remotely. I first started volunteering with my company and I realized it fulfilled me in a way nothing else did. I realized that the skills and time I was giving was valuable to others, so it made me feel even more grateful for those same things.
When and how did you first decide to volunteer abroad?
I’m not a world traveler, by any means. I like taking trips about 4 or 5 times per year, but I’m not the type to live abroad for a long period of time. Knowing that I built a home keeps me grounded, and I want to be there often to enjoy the fruits of my labor. However, I still enjoy seeing different parts of the world in short stints.
One day, while volunteering at a local food bank, I was chatting with another volunteer about my next trip. I was undecided about where I wanted to venture off to and she simply asked the question “are you going to volunteer abroad, too?” That was something new for me. It never crossed my mind to volunteer abroad before then. I did some research and narrowed it down to a few companies, but ultimately, I decided to volunteer with Maximo. This was back in 2017.
Which country did you choose and why?
I didn’t choose a country, I chose a program, and that led to me choosing a country – Jungle Conservation. Living in California really exposed me to the dangers our planet is facing due to climate change. In 2016, I started getting active in my community and volunteer efforts to do what I could to make even the tiniest difference. I knew that deforestation was a tremendous threat, so why wouldn’t I volunteer in the jungle our world literally depends on? It was a no brainer. I spent 3 incredible weeks in a small station in the Peruvian Amazon jungle with several other volunteers helping the resident team in reforestation efforts and monitoring wildlife.
How did you end up in our holiday volunteer program?
I really loved the jungle conservation project, but I also wanted to try different volunteer programs. I just wasn’t sure I’d be able to commit as much time to each program. One of the field managers in Cusco told me about the itineraries for the holiday volunteer program and how volunteers were able to work at different sites throughout the week. I figured it would be a really nice way to get insight into the other programs and give back during a special time of year.
Which volunteer program did you choose and where?
Volunteering for the second time allowed me to visit a new country. I spent 3 weeks in the Amazon jungle in Peru, but this time I would only be volunteering for a week and the projects would include direct interaction with the people of the communities. This time, I chose to volunteer in Guatemala.
From December 23rd to December 29th, I was able to volunteer at 3 different sites. The first was an eco-agriculture project where we assisted a small local macadamia farm. It’s a laborious role which included picking and packaging macadamias. I know this farmer depended on the profits of his product to get him and his family through the season, so I was grateful that I was in physical condition to help where I could.
We spent another 2 days at a childcare project helping the staff care for the kids while their parents were at work. We did lots of arts and crafts projects related to the holiday, like creating Santa faces with construction paper and cotton balls. We also taught the kids some traditional Christmas songs and they performed for us, too. The next day, we coordinated a holiday party and surprised the kids with gifts we bought and wrapped. I knew these gifts would be the only ones some of these kids received so it was a really special moment for all of the volunteers. We even surprised the staff with small thank you gifts. We weren’t sure of their own circumstances but wanted to make sure they knew we were thinking of them. In return, we were treated to a delicious holiday meal that included the traditional green and red tamales.
The last project was at an elderly care center. This was probably the most special to me because we got the chance to meet and talk with an older generation. They shared the history of Guatemala and explained why Guatemalans hold so tightly to their history and heritage. They believe it is important to honor their ancestors by keeping traditional customs alive. Though almost everyone speaks Spanish, they’ve maintained over 20 indigenous Mayan languages and almost everyone around Antigua speaks at least one of the dialects. Language, art, fashion, song, and dance are all representative of the Mayan people.
Why do you think one might decide to choose during the winter holidays?
One really great reason would be time. Most people are off from work during the holiday season and the kids are out of school. If family time during the holidays is important to you, a holiday volunteer project could be the perfect excuse to take a trip together, experience something new, and give back all at the same time. In addition, it’s a very sensitive time of year for those less fortunate. There are millions of kids around the world who know the story of Santa and gift giving, but who won’t have a story of their own to tell. Volunteering during the holidays can alleviate some of that misfortune, even if for a very few.
What are you most looking forward to during this year’s holiday volunteer program?
I love the fact that, while I was given the itinerary, I really don’t know in which specific communities I’ll be participating. It’s kind of a holiday surprise for me, but I expect it’ll be like the programs in Guatemala – working with kids, elderly care centers, and maybe some light construction. However, nothing is really guaranteed. Volunteers are placed based on community needs, so I’m happy to show up, work hard, and celebrate the holidays with great people no matter where I’m placed.
I’m really excited to learn about Costa Rica’s culture. I learned a little bit about Guatemala and Peru’s indigenous cultures before going abroad, but I haven’t really been able to get much info about the people of Costa Rica. I hope I’ll get the chance to work with the elders again so I can learn a bit more about Costa Rica’s history and how it’s maintained.
Any last comments or thoughts?
Regardless of when or where you choose to volunteer, what’s important is knowing you have the means to do so – and then taking the action to do so! I’m so grateful I was introduced to a community of avid volunteers, and even more grateful that I’m able to volunteer abroad. Whether you get involved over a summer break, or you choose a holiday volunteer program during the very special season of giving, you’ll recognize your strengths, as well as your privileges, and learn to use them both to serve others.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” – Mahatma Ghandi