Why should I volunteer?
By Luis Aviles
One must have to be pretty insensitive to remain unmoved by developing countries’ woes. Thanks to the Internet and television, tales about these countries’ suffering and misery seem to enter almost daily into our comfortable lives here in the developed world. So what can we do? Perhaps we could lobby our politicians about the debt in Third World countries, knowing that their actions are rarely altruistic. But there is another option: you can cut out the middlemen and work for those troubled countries directly, offering practical services as a volunteer.r.
Three years ago, I became a member of Ecuador Mi Pais, fulfilling a lifelong ambition of volunteering. Ecuador is a beautiful country, for many reasons, but especially for its huge diversity in geography, biology, and socio-culture. The variety of flora and fauna is famous around the globe, especially in the Galapagos Islands. Its ethnic diversity is perhaps one of the highest in the continent. However, in modern times, this small country in South America has been affected by many downturns in the economy, affecting the social programs directly. Therefore, the educational system in Ecuador, although it has been changing in the last few months, still shows inefficiency and low levels of penetration in the population. This was the reason why I wanted to be part of a newly born organization, which helps children access higher quality education.
Last year, I traveled to Ecuador and found that the programs Ecuador Mi Pais was leading were having a direct impact on children’s lives. Firsthand experience of real poverty is shocking. It is difficult to understand what it means to have virtually nothing until you see it for yourself. More than ever I realize how lucky we are in the developed world, yet there is so much about the Ecuadorian way of life that I envy. The generosity of people who have so little is humbling and their concern for each other make our society seem greedy and uncaring. Perhaps poverty is better for the soul than wealth. But surely there has to be a balance, but where that lies is a question I will leave to others. In the meantime, I will cherish my link with Ecuador and the mutual, beneficial exchange it provides, while recommending volunteering as a truly life changing experience.
During that visit to Ecuador I met Carla, one of the grantees of our scholarships and, needless to say, one of the best students at her school. Her parents had passed away recently. She now lives with her grandmother and her other siblings. It was very hard for her grandmother to pay for their education, as she lives off from government aid (nearly $150 a month). Fortunately, she was able to reach Ecuador Mi Pais for help for their children and we were able to grant her granddaughter a scholarship. Seeing this dear little soul’s face was the most rewarding feeling I had ever experienced. And that can make you feel like Bill Gates. I am far from rich, but in that environment, we saw how the sacrifice of small sums to us could make a huge difference to them. And what a privilege that is. I still can’t get over how fortunate I was to meet Carla. For a relatively small sum each year, we are paying for an education for her that will transform her prospects.
Choosing to volunteer is a great choice for numerous reasons. Besides the obvious resume boost, it gives you the opportunity to complete something you might not otherwise have had the time for. For graduate school admissions, volunteer work is highly respected and your time spent doing so may turn into something incredibly valuable for your future. I am currently going through the grad school admission process, and there are no words to describe how immensely volunteering has helped me advance in my career. Volunteer work is one of the first aspects of your resume that schools are looking for on applications. It also aids in the process of procuring a new job or when looking for an interview. Having more than just a gap between jobs shows potential employers that while you decided to end a previous profession you remained dedicated to something productive during your time off.
In essence, volunteering has helped me develop new skills, become part of the community, feel motivated, boost my career options, meet a diverse range of people, and most importantly has shown me a way to dedicate my time to help others.