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Kimberly Boerigter and Rebecca Martineau, former residents of Los Alamos, attended a volunteer program in Ecuador for five weeks this summer through International Volunteer Headquarters.
Boerigter and Martineau have traveled abroad on separate occasions in the past. Boerigter went to India for a college class and Martineau has been to Mexico, Costa Rica and Peru.
The two are also recent college graduates, Boerigter from Hope College in Holland, Michigan and Martineau from Kansas State University. Both are 2010 graduates of Los Alamos High School.
Boerigter and Martineau said they both enjoyed the experience of the program through IVHQ saying that is was less expensive and more controlled then some other volunteer programs.
“Not only was it reasonably priced but the program has a tons of locations and options for lengths, all of which they try and keep the cost affordable so people who want to make a difference can actually make a difference,” Boerigter said.
The volunteer program mixed work with pleasure — Monday through Thursday, the girls worked with street kids and Friday through Sunday, they were free to explore the country and get a feel for the culture and location.
They both agreed that the language barrier was a bit of a challenge, but working with the children of Quito was a rewarding experience for them.
“This gives me a chance to understand the cultural differences and make an impact on a local issue,” Martineau said in her blog of experiences. “Because many of these children have been pulled from school to help their families work, our program gives them a chance to pause and be a child again for a few hours. We often bring activities to help teach them basic skills, from letters and numbers, to social skills that they don’t get from their specific situation.”
Martineau added that many of the children opted to hug the volunteers and were very affectionate.
To Martineau, the kids were not accustomed to receiving that sort of attention, which they seemed to crave.
“If you’re sensitive to the culture, volunteering is an effective way to learn about different people and places,” she said. “Ultimately, this helps broaden my understanding of the world…I hope that I have brought something to the community here as well. That is a thousand times more important.”
While working with a girl, Martineau recalled an experience that she said she felt honored to be a part of.
“She was 5 years old and extremely social, but when we were working with patterns and beads, I slowly realized that she didn’t know her colors,” Martineau said. “She simply hadn’t been given the opportunity to learn them, either at home or in school. I realized that they really do need us. Every day brings another interesting encounter with the children. Some positive, some negative and some best described as humbling.”
Boerigter also had an experience with one of the children that she said she will never forget.
“I sat down to read “Huevos Verdes Con Jamon” (“Green Eggs and Ham”) with a child,” said Boeriger. “While I was reading, she too said the words so I figured I would let her try reading. She was probably right around 7 years old and read along as I followed the sentences with my finger in the typical fashion that I learned to read as well. At parts, she became frustrated sounding out the words, but she pushed herself and eventually finished the book.
“She was so excited when she finished that she ran over to (one of the Ecuadorian instructors) and was yelling excitably. Given her excitement, I think it might have been the first book she read all the way through...and I got to be a part of it,” she said.
A portion of the cost of the trips through IVHQ go to the United to Benefit Ecuadorian Children International, which houses the volunteers with a host family and pays for food and other living expenses.
The UBECI volunteer program also gives the volunteers and opportunity to travel over three-day weekends.
“For our first weekend, we chose the tourist-heavy mountain town of Baños,” Martineau said of her and Boerigter.
“We were flying through tunnels and wizzing through the mountains with the wind in our hair. I just felt free,” Boerigter said.
Both volunteers were impressed by the way IVHQ and the UBECI programs allowed limited photos to be taken.
“They made sure the volunteers were there to work, not to just take a photo with some of the native people and then leave,” Martineau said.
“So many people go abroad and victimize different groups of people because they come from impoverished areas. This doesn’t help them,” Boerigter said. “I hate seeing pictures where someone is clearly posing in the ‘good Samaritan’ type way.”
“UBECI helped regulate this by only allowing us to take our cameras to the site for one day the very last week of our trip,” Boerigter said.
“Being at the end of their trips, many people have grown to love these children and see them for more than just dirty hands and shabby clothes. Their pictures paint a picture of what we actually do in the program in general to encourage others to apply if this is the sort of thing that interests them.”
The girls both say that if volunteering abroad is an interest, one must go for more than a few weeks to absorb all that the culture and location has to offer and the culture shock might be what one needs to remind them what really matters.