Volunteer Profile

What You Will Gain as a Caminos Intern

Outreach360 Caminos Volunteer Intern Guest Writer: Sarah Allen

When I first traveled to the Dominican Republic as an English teacher for underserved students with Outreach360 in 2012, I learned a principle by which the organization lives: Serve; Don’t Help. Volunteers often go to developing countries with the mindset of helping the helpless. But since that first trip, I have returned four more times to the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, and I now realize that development work is not one-sided. Empowering societies through cooperation, support, and mutual exchange is crucial to lasting development. Service is a two-way relationship that involves mutual communication, respect, and learning.

As a Caminos Intern with Outreach360, for everything that you give to the students and the community, you will gain even more. Personally, I owe the entire path of my life to that first week I volunteered at Outreach360: my interest in Latin American culture, my commitment to teaching and learning languages, my devotion to education, my passion for service, and my decision to pursue a career in international humanitarian work. If you are even half as lucky as me, you will gain so much from your time as a Caminos Intern with Outreach360: you will learn from like-minded peers, gain critical leadership skills, form meaningful relationships with students, soak up a new culture, open doors for your future, and even pick up some Spanish along the way.

Every returned Outreach360 volunteer will probably tell you that working with the students was the highlight of their experience. For me, it was no different. But working with the students was also by far the most challenging aspect of volunteering for me. During my first trip to the Dominican Republic, I spent every single day of the week teaching color words to a group of about eight kindergarten-aged students who had had very minimal exposure to English. Each day, it seemed like the students had completely lost all of the progress they had made the day before. Because of the total immersion approach that Outreach360 takes to teaching English, I felt like it was difficult to communicate and connect with such basic level students.

As the end of the week approached, I worried that our team had not accomplished the main goal that we had set for ourselves: facilitating mastery of eight basic color words. Feeling hopeless on the last day, our team gave the students coloring pages and crayons in a half-hearted attempt to do an activity that was relevant to the theme but still simple enough that we couldn’t fail.

To our surprise, as the students colored, we began to hear them ask each other for the crayons that they wanted. “Blue, please,” I heard from one student as he looked towards another student’s pile of crayons. “Red,” another student called as she gestured towards a crayon just out of reach in the center of the table. For the rest of the day, we encouraged students to ask their peers and teachers for the crayons they wanted for their coloring pages to practice their color words. Unlike we had thought all along, the students were making incremental progress all week, poco a poco. Despite my initial frustration of slow progress, I know that each successive week that Outreach360’s dedicated teachers have worked with those students, they have built upon what I taught that week.

At the end of the last day, every single one of my students ran up and gave me a huge hug, and that is what has kept me and hundreds of other volunteers returning year after year to continue to see them grow. Despite the language barrier I perceived, I was able to form a real connection with my students that I strengthen with each visit.

I have loved learning from Outreach360’s joyful and loving students, but the opportunity to forge lifelong friendships with fellow volunteers and staff has also been a hallmark of my experience as a volunteer. Outreach360 attracts all of the coolest world travelers, adventurers, and do-gooders. Through interactions with like-minded people from near and far, you will not only bond over your similarities, but you will gain new perspectives and a multicultural outlook from your differences.

Throughout your time in Nicaragua or the Dominican Republic, you will certainly encounter cultural differences you are unaccustomed to. But Outreach360 will be there to support you every step of the way and help you conquer any challenges you may face. By the time you return home, you will miss the gallo pinto you ate every day, the daily rounds of La Prensas loudspeaker, and even the bunk beds and mosquito nets.

All that you gain from your time as a Caminos Intern with Outreach360 will be invaluable within the context of any career or life path you may choose to pursue. I know I will carry the knowledge and experiences I have acquired in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic with me through the rest of my life.

Not only that, but you will also open doors for your students that will allow them to contribute to the healing of their communities. Like I said, the “Serve; Don’t Help” principle has stuck with me and served me as a guiding principle since my first trip to Latin America. I hope that you choose to spend a few months of your time as a Caminos Intern because I guarantee that your time with Outreach360 will stick with you too.

For more information about the Outreach360 Caminos Volunteer Internships, visit this website: https://outreach360.org/volunteer/individuals-long-term-internships/

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Caminos Volunteer Finds Friendship

St. Lawrence University Junior Ollie Smith interacts with Nicaraguan student at the Outreach360 Learning Center in Jinotega, Nicaragua.

St. Lawrence University Junior Ollie Smith traveled to Nicaragua in August 2017 as an individual volunteer with Outreach360. Ollie has volunteered with Outreach360 seven times since his first trip to the Dominican Republic in 2010. During the Summer of 2016, Smith participated in the Outreach360 Caminos program, which is an eight-week internship experience housed in Jinotega, Nicaragua.

What keeps him coming back to volunteer with Outreach360 is the memories and interactions he has with the students. Although the students inspire him to return each year, he is most fond of the Outreach360 staff and volunteers. The relationships that Ollie has built while volunteering motivates his passion for service.

“Obviously, I come back for the kids, but also another reason that drives me to come back is the people. What’s great about Outreach360 is that you meet amazing people, from kitchen staff to leaders. You meet new people every time. It’s amazing the connections you make here,” Ollie said.

Ollie taught English immersion classes to 37 Nicaraguan students from the German Pomares neighborhood located in Jinotega. Ollie became close to these students as a Caminos Volunteer in 2016. Working with the students continuously for eight weeks allows Caminos Volunteers the opportunity to create long-lasting relationships.

The Caminos Volunteer Program boosts leadership skills in an unfamiliar environment. He became quickly attached to his new surroundings in Jinotega while serving as a Caminos Volunteer. Although he often felt pushed outside of his comfort zone, he felt rewarded in more ways than one, he explains.

Ollie says, “I like trying to learn from my experiences, good or bad, but working with the Caminos program was an amazing one. It helped me develop new leadership qualities in myself. Leading adults who are older than you, and kids who are tinier than you; it really builds your character.”

Volunteering abroad provides a unique opportunity for those looking to find internships in education. With Outreach360, Caminos volunteers take on the role of a teacher to educate underserved students in Nicaraguan communities.

“The students grow, not just physically, but emotionally and mentally. The best example of this is this one particular student at the Learning Center. As long as I have known her, she has barely said a peep. This year, I think, she has said more to me in one week than she has said in the 5 or 6 years that I have known her. She has really come out of her shell,” Ollie said.

Outreach360 welcomes Caminos volunteers, like Ollie, to serve in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic for as long as six months. The organization immerses Caminos volunteers in cultural experiences unique to Nicaragua.

Ollie mentions, “The Caminos program is the best way to spend the summer. You get to be really immersed in Nicaraguan culture and you get to know the ins-and-outs of Outreach360.”

More information about Outreach360 Caminos Internship can be found here: https://outreach360.org/volunteer/individuals-long-term-internships/.

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A Family of Three

The Monilaws served with us for three weeks in Nicaragua.  This is their story: 

At first I thought, I’d like to volunteer teaching English somewhere.  Get out of the daily grind and experience something completely new!  This idea turned into; how could I bring my family? Which turned into; could we actually all volunteer together somewhere?  After much research I came across outreach360.  One of the few organizations who not only welcomed children but allowed them, encourage them, to participate as volunteers.  This idea, I loved!  As a family of three; Sydney – 11, Stacey – 4, and myself, I thought this could be the perfect fit!

We chose Nicaragua for many reasons, one in particular being Sydney is enrolled in a Spanish immersion program in her school and I wanted her to have the opportunity to use the Spanish language she had learned as well as experience one of the cultures/ countries she had been studying.  Stacey and I were happy to get away from the cold Canadian winter to just about anywhere!  So, Nicaragua it was!

When planning this trip, traveling with 2 children brought many questions and logistical planning.  Would we actually be able to teach?  Would we have culture shock?  What if we didn’t like the food?  What kind of precautions should we take? So after everyone had vaccinations, packed medicines for every possible ailment, a month worth of snacks, and Spanish vocabulary was practiced, we arrived at Outreach360 only to realize all the worrying was for nothing.  We felt nothing but comfortable and welcomed (not to mention excited) the moment we stepped off the plane!  Outreach360 staff really made us feel at home.

Outreach360 has 10 principles to keep in mind when volunteering with them.  One being “Its not about you”.  I adopted this principle when we first arrived and really focused on the mission of Outreach360; to help children who may not otherwise have the opportunity to reach their full potential.  The Learning Center was amazing and the kids who are in this program are so eager to learn.  They are smart kids and I felt so fortunate to have the chance to work with them for 3 whole weeks.

One of my favorite moments was teaching the kids at the Learning Centre hockey!  We thought bringing Canada’s national sport to the kids of Jinotega would be a great experience and something new for them to try.  We packed 8 hockey sticks with us and it took less than 30 seconds for the kids to catch on to the idea of the game.  The laughter that ensued was contagious as they ran back and forth across the backyard, sticks in hand!  We all enjoyed teaching them and are so glad we can leave a small part of something we love as a family, with them.

It turned out Outreach360 was the perfect match for our family.  I could go on and on about the amazing staff, fantastic volunteers, and of course the inspiring students.  I will definitely leave with more than I expected to and our experience in Jinotega is one all three of is will not soon forget.      -Katie

“Outreach360 has been one of the best experiences for us.  It makes it clearer, after being in Jinotega for 3 weeks, that the work being done by volunteers and staff is benefiting the kids.  The kids are open to any recreational activity; we brought hockey sticks from home and they loved playing hockey!  I also met some pretty amazing volunteers and even though it’s about the kids, meeting volunteers who are also so open and friendly really MAKES this experience.  The kids are all so unique and having met them I can see what individuals they really are.  (I won’t spoil the experience for you with too much detail, you’ll have to come see for yourself!)”  -Sydney, 11

“My favorite part was camp because I was making so many new friends!  I’m so happy because I got to bring my hockey stick and play hockey with the kids.”   -Stacey, 4

 

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