When I first told my friends and coworkers I was moving to Mexico I was largely met with stunned silence. Like most other New Zealanders, all I’d really heard of Mexico was tacos and tequila. And maybe the occasional news article on El Chapo, drug lord and prison escapee extraordinaire.
But growing up I had always wanted to experience other cultures. I learnt Spanish at university, studied abroad in Spain, and travelled as much as my student budget would allow. After graduating from university, I worked in public policy for three years. I loved it, but I began to get itchy feet. After hunting out opportunities for long-term volunteering in Latin America, I packed my bags, said adios to New Zealand, and hola to Mexico.
I volunteered for 13 months with Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos – “Our Little Brothers and Sisters” in Spanish – or NPH for short. NPH provides a stable home life and education to thousands of children and young adults in nine countries across Latin America and the Caribbean.
Based in Cuernavaca in the state of Morelos, I worked as the Communications Officer for NPH Mexico. I was the liaison between NPH’s home in Mexico and NPH fundraising officers around the world. I provided statistics, articles and photos, as well as authoring the annual report.
I worked alongside volunteers from all over the world, including Italy, Germany, the US, Belgium, and Canada. I loved the other volunteers with every fiber of my being! Together we laughed at the crazy moments, cried over our frustrations, and took trips together during our weekends off. With my fellow volunteers I travelled all across Mexico, from Zihuatanejo on the Pacific Coast, to Tulum in the Caribbean, south to Chiapas, and north to Michoacán.
What attracted me to NPH was the opportunity to volunteer for an extended period of time, the support volunteers receive, and the opportunity to work in a professional role that used my skills and work experience. Working in communications, I had to be independent and self-driven. I loved the role – I photographed, interviewed and spoke with individuals all over the organization. From kindergarten children to the principal of the high school, the cook to the National Director, I worked with them all.
Like many international NGOs, NPH operates a child sponsorship program. But what surprised me the most at NPH was the amazing relationship between sponsors (called “godparents”) and their sponsored children (called “godchildren”). As well as receiving regular updates on their progress and exchanging letters, godparents often visit their godchildren in Mexico. I saw godparents attend graduation ceremonies, visit for Christmas, or send photos of their families. Many of the children at NPH don’t have many family members involved in their lives, so their relationship with their godparents is very real and meaningful.
My year in Mexico was one of the most challenging of my life. It was filled with lows and highs, frustrations and triumphs, and yes, tacos and tequila. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.
This is a guest post by Amanda Thomas. Thanks for sharing your gap year experience, Amanda!