Lucia Merino is originally from Barcelona, Spain. She is a graduate of the School of Social Work at UNC-Chapel Hill, NC. She works as a psychotherapist in the San Francisco Bay Area in California. She is married to a French man and enjoys learning from other cultures,religions, and ways of life. She volunteered with Volunteering Solutions in May 2012 in the street children child care center in India.
Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with Volunteering Solutions in India?
I did a very thorough search online and found many different organizations providing volunteer opportunities. I decided on Volunteering Solutions for a few reasons, including it's based in New Delhi, where I wanted to volunteer. In addition, I decided to go with VS because the price was reasonable and offered a blend of volunteering and traveling opportunities. I wanted to do some sightseeing and short trips (i.e. Taj Mahal) while in India. The blend between volunteering, traveling, being with an Indian family, and the price were the factors that made me decide to volunteer with VS.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
We would get up around 8 and have breakfast. Over breakfast, we volunteers would decide what to do during the day. I was in a placement (child care center for street children) with three other volunteers. Around 10 am, we would take the bus and arrive to our placement around 11. There were from 15 to 20 children and we would go with the flow of the children's needs. Some of them wanted to draw and were happy to sit next to us to show us their work. I would comment on their drawings and teach them how to write and pronounce each of the objects on the drawing. Another child wanted me to hold her as she made acrobatic exercises at times balancing herself on top of my knees. Another one wanted to play hands games with me and learn songs I would sang in English. Another yet, wanted to show me her writing in Hindi and read to me from a book in Hindi. I realized that she just wanted some attention from me. Somebody to whom she could read, somebody to connect, to spend some time together. And that was the most important part of the volunteering, that you were there to connect with these children at the level they wanted, they needed. It was informal education delivered in the best conducive way for each child. Each child was unique, therefore, the time was spent uniquely with each one.
At lunch time, I would help the coordinators to serve the food, and afterwards it was nap time. The other volunteers and I would go to have lunch together at nearby places. This was a very enjoyable activity and we felt safe walking through the Chandni Chowk area which can be an intimidating part of town. After, we would go back and continue interacting with the children. We would help the coordinators in informal educational activities: singing, reciting words written on the board (in English), drawing, counting, and teaching them hygiene practices and healthy behaviors.
We would take the metro or the bus and head back to the family home to have dinner at 6pm. The food was traditional vegetarian Indian food very palatable and healthy. At no time I felt hungry or not able to eat the food that was served at the dinner table. I never needed to buy extra food on my own. During dinner, all the volunteers from different placements commented on their experiences. We would make plans for the rest of the evening. At times, there was an activity organized by Rajiv, the father and coordinator of Volunteer Solutions. Several nights we went out all the group together to visit a temple or see a performance (i.e. Light show at the Akshardham Temple).
Rajiv, the Delhi coordinator and father of the family, gave us an introduction the very first day. We learned important things about the culture, what public transportation was available, which placement we each would be in, and which days we were going to do sightseeing and to were. We had a clear schedule of each day, however, he was open to discussion to meet the needs of each volunteer. Things were discussed and negotiated in a democratic way. At no time I felt uncomfortable or not safe. Rajiv, and each member of the staff were always at our disposal for questions of any kind.
What made this volunteer abroad experience unique and special?
It was unique and special because it gave me the opportunity to live with a native Indian family in their own home. They made me feel part of the family. Also, the opportunity to be there engaging and being with very underprivileged children was very special.
What advice do you have for future volunteers?
Allow yourself to go with the flow. Have an open mind. Be humble and focus on giving your time and care to the children you come to help. Do not obsess or be afraid of mosquitoes bites, bugs, or contracting any maladies. Take the reasonable measures recommended by the WHO and the staff at VS. Follow the instructions given by VS manual.
How has this experience impacted your future?
This experience has impacted my life because it has confirmed to me that life can be lived in many different ways and be satisfying and happy. The children I served did not have anything, some of them, not even parents. However, they were always happy to see me, to play with me, to enjoy the moment. To be alive. It has made me more respectful of other people, other cultures, other socio-economical levels, more respectful and tolerant. It has enriched me immensely personally and professionally. I will do it again, no doubt.