Posted by Rosie Iron
Volunteering abroad. What do you think of when you read those words? When I am asked by friends and family what I was doing in Nicaragua, they seem slightly confused when I tell them that I wasn’t carrying out the usual volunteer roles of teacher, construction worker or conservationist. Volunteering with Nuevas Esperanzas has been very different from my other volunteer experiences. When I contacted the team last year, I had no idea that a few emails and a skype call would lead to volcano hikes, beehive visits, canyon abseiling and fascinating agricultural training sessions.
Volunteering has become very popular with school and university leavers, allowing us to learn new skills, visit exotic places and experience different cultures. There are many volunteering opportunities available, and although there are definite themes, each one will be unique for the volunteer. However, with so much choice it is easy to get lost. I was wary of joining a volunteer organisation, where I could not be sure whether more time and money would be spent on me as opposed to on the project. My main objective was to learn. I wanted to learn how sustainable development organisations carry out their work, with me as the volunteer on the periphery and not the main focus.
Nuevas Esperanzas felt right. Run by a team of paid professionals, most of whom are from Nicaragua, it was clear that this was not a volunteer driven organisation. Despite the fact I was not required, Nuevas Esperanzas made me feel like a valued member of the team, and I was treated with complete professionalism throughout my time there. Having an undefined role, I was given the freedom to pursue the topics that interested me. Whilst being on hand to help out with things like website content, proposals and reports, I was able to learn about subsistence farming, the model farms project and new agricultural methods. The team was fantastic. Knowledgeable, helpful and endlessly patient with my limited Spanish, they were always happy to answer my questions. A day in the field was worth at least a week in the classroom.
Having the opportunity to visit the communities who live on the Telica Volcano regularly, and see the strong relationship between Nuevas Esperanzas and their beneficiaries was an incredible experience. I felt so fortunate be joining the team as they took training sessions on the farms, walked new hiking routes for the tourism project or worked with the bees. Although most of their projects provide tangible results, such as rainwater harvesting tanks and honey, they have a deep understanding of the importance of the social-based work that is involved. They are prepared to dedicate time and money to the intangibles to increase the sustainability of their projects in the long-term. It was also refreshing to see self-evaluation: the ability to analyse and acknowledge where projects have not gone to plan, and use this to evolve and learn for future projects.
It has been a privilege to have been part of an organisation whose values and way of working are so genuine to the people whose lives they aim to improve.
Whether you are thinking about volunteering, or are studying and researching for your thesis, I would recommend Nuevas Esperanzas. Or if you are doing a fundraising event, and want to know that your money is going to a good cause, here your donations can really make a difference.