Our new volunteers
Due to the pandemic, we have not been able to receive international volunteers since March 2020. However, since the end of August our team has grwon and Julia and Felix from Austria are supporting us in SALEM for one year.
What was your main motivation for volunteering abroad?
Julia: I already had the idea of doing voluntary service in Latin America for a long time. I wanted to get out and see more of the world, but at the same time make a meaningful contribution. All the experiences, the stories and the people I get to know here, wouldn’t have been possible at home. I wanted to gain insights and broaden my worldview.
Felix: Get out of the box and into the world! Knowing that there is a whole world full of exciting things out there and not exploring it would simply not have been something I could have endured. And all together with my goal to leave every place a little better than I found it, volunteering abroad is exactly the answer I was looking for.
What did the preparation for your volunteer service in Austria look like?
Julia: Actually, I had planned to start volunteering in August 2020, after my bachelor’s degree. However, because of the Corona pandemic, I then had to postpone by one year and it was not clear for a long time whether we would really be able to leave. This insecurity was quite difficult during the preparation period. In April 2021, I then had the preparation workshop from my sending organization, where I learned for a week about topics such as intercultural communication, culture shock or international development. There I was also able to exchange ideas with other volunteers. The idea of leaving became much more real. But everything was not really fixed until the end of June. Then I had to quickly apply for a visa and organize everything – that was a bit stressful. For weeks I rotated between excitement, saying goodbye and arranging the last things. But in the end it paid off.
Felix: If I had to draw a pie chart, about half of the pie would be tedious and confusing official channels, a quarter would be shopping and thinking about things you would otherwise never think about in life (such as how much gelatin could possibly be enough for a year, or what the socket plug of Latin America actually looks like) and about a quarter would be excitement.
How was it to say goodbye to Austria when you had to travel? Were you afraid?
Julia: Of course it’s difficult to leave all your surroundings at home, family and friends behind. Will all of them still be there when I come back? Will the friendships last over the distance? How will it be here, where I don’t know anyone? I was already afraid, because many things were uncertain. In the meantime, however, I can say that a lot of fear was unnecessary. I am in good contact with the people at home and get a lot of support and interest from them.
Felix: Fear is such a big word. I would say I had a lot of respect for the project itself. On the other hand, there would have been no way not to go on this adventure without regretting it later. So you just have to go through some things. It was hard to say goodbye, of course, but as much as I sometimes condemn social media, in this case I am very grateful for all the communication possibilities we have today.
What were you thinking and feeling when you arrived in SALEM?
Julia: Our arrival was a bit turbulent. The plane landed in Guayaquil instead of Quito because there was a volcanic ash cloud in the air. This meant hours of waiting for us. When we finally got to SALEM at 1 a.m., my first thought was “Finally to bed.” But from the next day I was fascinated by the beauty of nature here in Mindo. The team immediately made us feel very welcome and I quickly felt at home.
Felix: First of all tired. But that was probably due to our almost 30 hours long journey with a 7 hour delay. But fortunately that was quickly slept off. From the first day I felt very welcome here in the team and in SALEM. Of course, in the beginning it takes a bit of time to get to know each other and to be able to assess the strengths and weaknesses of each other, but SALEM has always been a safe space for me since the beginning and I like to come back to it every time.
How did you feel about communication in the beginning?
Julia: I learned a lot of new vocabulary in the first days and I am still learning. Right from the start, my colleagues made every effort to ensure that I understood everything. That worked out really well. With the children, it was more difficult at first because they talked quickly and I didn’t know some of the vocabulary. But that has improved in the meantime.
Felix: One thing I’ve definitely learned is that no matter how well prepared you are, if a twelve-year-old starts chattering away in full slang and rapidly, you don’t stand a chance. But you’ll find your way together. In the worst case, you communicate a bit with your hands and feet and then you learn the most important things very quickly.
What are your wishes for your volunteer work?
Julia: I wish that I can leave something behind. This already starts with little everyday things, for which the children give me a smile and thank me. I hope that I will have an unforgettable time here and that I will return to Austria with many experiences and fewer prejudices.
Felix: I wish that I can give at least as much to SALEM as SALEM gives to me. By that I mean that I would be infinitely happy to leave something of mine here that makes the place at least a little bit better than before I came. Because I know for sure that I will take a lot with me from here.
Do you think that this experience will help you in your professional and private life?
Julia: I think so. To what extent I will only be able to say after this year. But in my professional life the knowledge of Spanish will definitely be helpful. In addition, SALEM allows me to gain more experience both working with children and in public relations. I can already see that I am growing personally and that I radiate more calmness. If I can take that with me, it will certainly be helpful for my private life as well as my job.
Felix: That always depends on the goal. If you absolutely want to earn three million dollars in two years, you should probably start somewhere else. But if you are looking for the opportunity to get to know yourself and the world better, to discover new perspectives and to get to know the vast lands outside your comfort zone, I think this is exactly the right thing for you.
What advice would you give to young people in general?
Julia: As cliché as it sounds, fight for your dreams. If you know where you want to go – even if it’s the other side of the world for a year – then work on it. Especially at our age, we have to make many decisions that will influence our later life. This often seems totally overwhelming. But taking one step at a time, you can climb the highest mountain.
Felix: Start! No matter what it is. What plan or what wish is in your head. Be it a stay abroad or just asking the pretty girl from the next class out on a date. Don’t let it stop you from getting started. Even if the first step is sometimes only a small one. It is the most important one.