Antonia working at a Girl´s Shelter
Volunteer Work 2010
From September 2009 to February 2010, I spent six months in Chile. Chile Inside organized my voluntary work as well as my accommodation in a shared flat.
First I wanted to do a Spanish course in Chile, because I could not speak a word yet. However, I organized this on my own via private contacts and did not take the course offered by Chile Inside. I spent all September in the capital Santiago, where I could live with my cousins. Every day I took the metro to get to my really nice language school in Providencia- Going by metro is quite an experience! The atmosphere at school was very relaxed and informal. In addition to classes, they offered many excursions where I met nice other students from all over the world.
The Chile Inside office was located was very close, so I could drop by a few times. The team there gave me a warm welcome and immediately started a friendly conversation to help me get along well in Santiago. My contact person, a German as well, explained how to use the metro or buses, where you can charge your cell phone, where you to celebrate “Dieciocho”, Chile's national holiday, etc. we also had a nice chat about mi first impressions. Once a month, Chile Inside is organizes a meeting for all their clients who are new in Chile. You meet in a bar or restaurant to exchange experience and get in touch. Unfortunately, I could not attend the first meeting, but then came for the second one in October, when I already lived Valparaíso. At that time, I already had become so independent and well settled that I did not need this help anymore. Anyway, it was a nice evening and I would recommend everyone to go to the first meeting, to make the start easier.
My time in Santiago was very nice! Life in the big city was a lot of fun and there is so much to do, sightseeing, shopping and so much more. In September, Chileans celebrate their National Holidays an occasion to learn much about Chile's culture, e.g. the traditional dance Cueca and typical food and drinks like Choripan and Chicha. I also participated in the salsa course at my language school, that was great fun as well.
In early October I moved to Valparaíso, the second largest city in Chile, right on the Pacific coast and only about one and a half hours from Santiago. Chile Inside provided me with accommodation in an apartment right in the city center with a wonderful sea view, as it was on the 15th floor. I lived with three other young people from Italy and the US, with whom I got along very well. My landlord, also very young, introduced me to his German flatmates, so I would not feel alone. On Monday I went to my volunteer position at Cerro Cordillera, where I was supposed to work for the next three months. I was received by one of the psychologists, who told me a bit about the shelter. Then I was allowed to go straight to the children and was able to watch a little how everything works there and got to know the other two volunteers from Germany and the US. I only had to work a few hours a day, and all they asked of me was to be with the girls, ages 4 to 17, play with them, talk to them and help with anything necessary. Unfortunately, the shelter was pretty disorganized and we were not given any special tasks, so the three of us did a pretty awkward job at the beginning. Also, our Spanish was still pretty bad in the beginning, so it was difficult to communicate and organize. The children were very open minded and immediately included us in their games, but the language barrier was always a major obstacle. The three “Tías” (carers), responsible for the three age groups, were unfortunately not very motivated and did not really make it easier for us to cope with everything faster.
So, the three of us organized a few projects, a Halloween party and a weekly movie afternoon, which the gils liked very much. However, the preparation for this was quite tedious. The director agreed with everything, but did not give any support, so we had to do everything ourselves. The children, with little education and discipline, were hard to control, and especially with our weak Spanish skills, it was difficult to explain to them what to do and how they could help us prepare for the party or doing crafts and games. Despite everything, our projects were successful, and we had a lot of fun after all.
As time went on, we got used to each other and made friends with the kids, so everything started to work more smoothly. Still, it was difficult to work with the Tias and the boss, I really would have liked more support and a better relationship with them. To get things done we had to insist a lot, so we soon lost some of our motivation. Overall, the work in the shelter was a great experience, mainly due to the girls, who really got attached to us. By listening to them and giving affection and warmth, I am sure we were able to improve their dreary everyday life and I'm glad that I could be there for them!
Life in Valparaíso was the best part of my stay in Chile. I really fell in love with this city! Unlike Santiago, it really feels like being in an authentic South American town as you would have imagined. With its chaotic and artistic atmosphere, it not only attracts thousands of tourists every year, but also many Chilean artists. The city is built on hundreds of hills, with thousands of colorful houses clinging to it, making you feel like they're falling down at any moment. The walls are painted with artistic graffiti and the bars, which do not close any day of the week, echo Latin American music. Above all, the people are young, in a good mood and enjoy life to the fullest. It is not a wealthy city, everything looks a bit run down, but this is exactly the city´s charm. Not for nothing, the historic centre of Valparaíso is also an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You can buy fresh fish and avocados on dazzling markets, old fishermen gather and tell stories at the harbour, and musicians play their guitars on the plazas. Countless stray dogs barkt at the Micros (busses) and Colectivos (taxis) until they are out of sight, and every now and then you come across a captain in full gear. The so-called San Fransisco of South America is also famous for its spectacular New Year festivities. The fireworks displayed over the sea attract thousands of tourists every year and only at dawn the streets and beaches empty and the stages are dismantled. So if you want to go to Chile, do not miss this city. I really enjoyed exploring it and getting to know life there.
All in all, therefore, I had a wonderful time in Chile, including an exiting trip to the south and to Bolivia at the end of my stay. Chile Inside has a very dedicated team with extremely sympathetic and reliable employees, I highly recommend them. For problems and questions, I could always contact them and I'm glad that I chose them to organize my stay.
As a tip for others who want to go to Chile: Be always open minded! Do not miss any opportunity to try something new, be it salsa dancing, surfing or going out for the third time in a row ... you do not have all your life time but just these few months to do so, so enjoy your stay in full, otherwise you'll regret it later! And above all, do not give up when it seems difficult to meet new people or if you feel alone. Go out on the street and just talk to people, somehow you always meet people. Besides, I would advise against being with other foreigners. Firstly, you do not learn the language, and from my own experience I know that this is the most important thing to settle in well, and secondly, you do not get to know the country and its people. I also know many who have traveled to some other city almost every weekend to get to know as much of Chile as possible. I would not recommend that either, as you may know the country as a tourist, but you have never really lived there to get to know Chileans and the normal life there first-hand.
Many thanks to Chile Inside for the wonderful placement of the volunteer work and support. To all other Chile insiders, I wish you a lot of fun!
(Antonias' report was translated from German, look here for the original post.)