Prior to my 14 months of full-time travels, as a teacher I was only able to travel on school holidays. Each summer I would travel to a new destination, often backpacking my way around the country. Each trip that I took, I tried to find an opportunity to volunteer while in that country. I felt it was the best way to get a feel of that place, by getting in with the locals. In Texas I volunteered at a soup kitchen, in Nicaragua I planted community gardens, in Honduras I built wells, in the Dominican Republic I volunteered at an orphanage, in Guyana I taught teachers, but my volunteer experience in Mexico was by far the most impactful–I volunteered at a dump.
In 2010, I traveled to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and volunteered at the Children Center of Hope Orphanage and the School of Champions through Feed the Children Vallarta (formerly known as Children of the Dump). Most of my time was spent at the School of Champions volunteering at the summer camp. I had an amazing time teaching English and facilitating games and crafts to the many innocent, sweet, and joyful children who live in and around the dump. Approximately 200 families lived at the dump in the past and, through education and support from Feed the Children Vallarta, fewer and fewer families are depending on the dump for their livelihood.
Through community and international support, Feed the Children Vallarta supported many programs and donated 1000 meals a day to the community of Magisterio. Josh Gillespie, coordinator of the summer camp at the time, states, “The appreciation and desire for education is there. Parents see the benefit and in return, their children can get a better future with the education provided.”
The School of Champions has helped change the formerly negative image of the community and motivates the government to get involved—the focus is on the children. Feed the Children Vallarta has plans to expand beyond elementary school-aged children to impact more of the community, for example offering middle school-aged children computer and technical trade skills.
School of Champions volunteer Veronica Corona explained that, “Most of the students enjoy talking to someone; they can come to the teachers and talk to them about things they can’t tell their parents.”
This privately-funded school can offer students with low socioeconomic status encouragement and experiences unlike any other they would normally receive, including technology, English, and physical education. It was an eye-opening experience to see such contrast to the Canadian education system, and an opportunity to gain real world experience to bring into my own classroom.
As a teacher, I feel very fortunate to have many opportunities throughout the year to travel. I am very passionate about Human Rights Education and development. For me, it is important to give back wherever and whenever I can. I agree with Veronica when she admits, “once you start helping others and seeing the problems they have, you value more of what you have.”
Not only has Feed the Children Vallarta helped in the area of Education, but they have also assisted in the development of the area around the dump. Drinking water, showers, bathrooms, washing machines, and feeding and clothing programs are now available. The people around the dump are proud and work hard to support their families. The children from the dump, who are always happy and full of life, made me realize that life is less about material worth and more about life’s experiences and making connections.
There are many opportunities available to travel and make a difference in whatever area you are passionate about. Teachers are part of an amazing profession where we can make use of our skills locally or abroad. Travel “volun-tourism” is the new wave of experience which many teachers and travelers can get involved in for short-term or long-term placements. With a little research, travelers will be surprised to see the many opportunities available in every area of interest and place imaginable. From volunteering with children, to working with sea turtles, the sky is the limit. If you love to travel, why not include some volunteering for a charitable cause while away on your dream vacation? You will be the beneficiaries.