International Volunteer Program

Field Notes

Amecameca-Life In the Family by Lucie Kohler-Gobb, (Weltwaert Participant with PEI Mexico)



Whenever I meet someone, they all welcome me very openhearted and all of them were lenient to me, since my Spanish is not the best. Every day I am picking up new words and my host family helps me improving my language. My new home is very different from what I am used to in Germany, but I was so happy when I found out that it is possible to take a hot shower, that I have a very nice room for myself, and that my host mother Estela is willing to cook vegetarian food J. I teared up, because I was very blessed to have come to such a nice family.


The Morales-family is very traditional, everything is bought from neighbors/or on the market and afterwards it is well prepared at the house by Estela’s hands: the food stock, the tea, clothes are washed by hand as well. My host father Federico is a bricklayer (Maurer), he is a very helpful man.

My host brother lives at home too and he attends university. We also have a beautiful bird. His name is Paco and he can sing Pippi Langstrumpf’s song. There are also 2 little dogs, and a Chihuahua baby-dog.


During my first week in Amecameca my host family took me to the “Feria de la Nuez”, a one-week-lasting celebration of the nut, which is very famous here. One day later we visited the most beautiful spot of the city. We hiked on a mountain top to see Amecameca from high above. At the same time we visited the colonial church Sacromonte (my host dad helped restoring the church) and Chalchimomosco, which are set in the middle of nature. We enjoyed a beautiful view on the landscape, on a clear day you can also see the mountain peak of the volcanoes.


Every Sunday morning I walk to church (Templo de la Rosa) with Estella. This experience has been very exciting, because I usually do not attend prayers in church. During this morning the people in church find time to cry, to laugh, todance, to aks for forgiveness, to meet brothers and sisters, praise Jehova, learn from the bible, and listen to the Pastor (she is a woman J).


On Sundays and Wednesdays I like to stroll through the market. You can find art or culture related goods here, but most of the market-stalls offer practical products and a great culinary variety, such as fruits, vegetables and cereals. Especially amaranth, Pipitorias(children’s candy with honey and pumpkin seeds), cactus-fruits, mature mangos and sweet pomegranate (Granatapfel) seduce me!


In Amecameca most of the people ride their bike or use one of the popular bici-taxis, but most commonly they take a rusty T2-VW-bus. About 15 people find a seat inside and the buses pass by frequently every other minute. One ride only costs 5 Pesos, on account of this no one cares about a damaged windows, the dubiously talented bus-driver, nor the perforated street which can bear comparison with a minefield.

Notes from the field from Marceline Dubiansky, PEI Mexico:

My new home: Barra de Potosi.

After a night bus trip, our new host family waited for us at the central bus station in Zihuatanejo in the morning.

I was so excited to see them and learned very quickly that there is no need to worry: our host parents, the 2 brothers, Ivan and Jorge and our host sister Danya are such lovely and warm-hearted people that we both feel directly being a part of their family.

The first days we get a lot of time to get used to this very new situation. We met the director of our project in the library, who was a great help for us learning a lot about our new home and the work we will have here. Doña Laura gave us time to learn little by little more about working with kids.

In the beginning we started easy art projects to get to know the kids better. It was hard to communicate without speaking Spanish well, but after some days it was easier to understand and talk, so we could do more with them on our own. Now, we see how our Spanish improves which is such a great experience because of the better communication with the kids.

In general, all of them are so motivated and creative that we sometimes even do not know where to put all of their beautiful works.

I had such a wonderful moment when I tried to show a girl how she can improve her drawing skills which really helped her. It made me so happy seeing the kids being very motivated and grateful to learn new things as well.

I am looking forward to the moment when we volunteers can communicate fluently so that we work more intensively with the kids including great projects and classes such as English, Ecology, Art and many other themes that come in our mind.

For sure, I thought very often during this first month how thankful I am to have the big chance being part of the project. I still can see how I learn new things and change myself by experiencing a lot of wonderful moments.

It gives me the possibility to meet lovely people, see fascinating places and this beautiful nature that surrounds me, being with the children and still gives me the opportunity to work creatively every day.

I am so curious how it will be in a few of months! J


My First Months in Mexico

~Laura Margowski (Weltwaert)- PEI Mexico

Volunteer in Mexico

Mexico--Drugs, gangs, pollution and US border problems--Or is that only what we know about this country through the daily news? My impression of Mexico is different.

The country is colorful... Click to continue reading.

Have You Eaten Your Grasshoppers?

Photo: Cricket Photo

Emily Chaplin's homestay in Mexico included a crunchy snack--which she wrote about on National Geographic's IT (Intelligent Travel) blog!

Click here to read.

Recycling Project in Ecuador      

As participants of the “Fincas Tropicales” project in Ecuador, our main task was to teach in primary schools. One thing that especially struck us in the schools we were teaching at and in the communities where we were living--was the disposal of garbage.

Due to a lack of adequate disposal facilities, the people in the countryside often either burn their garbage or carve it in. We were shocked by the image of children playing around fires of burning plastic bottles--terribly poisoning the air. That was when the idea of a recycling project came to our minds.

At first we investigated possibilities to sell recyclable plastic waste. In the next biggest city, namely Santo Domingo, we found some places which would at least buy plastic bottles, cans, and paper. After the investigation we started to plan the whole project.

We decided to include at least all 15 schools, that employ a volunteer in the cantón Puerto Quito, into the project. In order to make the idea of recycling more easily understandable for the children in the schools, we wrote a short play. The children really enjoyed the show, participated enthusiastically and at the same time learned something about the idea of recycling.

After the play we always left a yellow waste bin (for plastic bottles) and a white one (for paper) at every school. Additionally, we constructed a compost next to every school to give them the opportunity of creating their own garden mould.

We also hung up posters in every classroom explaining the tripartite system of separating the garbage and distributed stickers that stated “Martes – día de la basura”. This means that every Tuesday the kids could take the recyclable waste from their homes to the school and put it into the right bins. By doing so we were hoping to enlarge the amount of recycled waste and thereby reduce the amount of garbage burned at the families’ houses.

While there won’t be a great financial profit from the project, we hope it will offer an environmental one. It may only be a small contribution towards protecting the nature a little more, but awareness is always the first step toward change.

(Written by Björn Reschke on behalf of Mathias Krisam, Michael Gschlößl and Joel Schneider)

For more opportunities in Ecuador, click here.

Volunteering in Turkey

A volunteer from the US, Ed taught English and received some ceramics lessons in the bargain. He is pictured below in the pottery studio.

"I was placed at the Kahem Kadikoy Cultural Center. This is a state supported Adult Education Facility that has been around since the 1930’s. It is a very busy place with all sorts of courses going on at all hours. There is a ticket office at the entrance and there are always people in line. There is a theater there, but I think they must sell for other venues. There is a wide variety of classes including ceramics, Ed Levin in his ceramics classesmusic, folk dance as well as language, computers, etc.

My job was to assist the English Teacher in classes by engaging the students in speaking practice. This was great fun. In each of the class sections it began the same with students wondering who I was, why was I there, what did I think of Turkey, what did I know about Ataturk and what did I think of Presidents Obama and Bush. Also, there were many “personal questions" that I was told to expect. Turks are curious about other people and it is their way to ask direct questions of each other. I rather enjoyed how that helped us get to know each other better. I did not hesitate to ask them the same kinds of questions. READ MORE....


Notes from Nigeria

Brenda from Ireland spent 4 weeks in Nigeria working in a care centre for children: the Ibadan Motherless Baby home. She went there together with three friends: Eimear, Niamh and Fiona.

"Before I left for Nigeria I went on a predeparture workshop.This was very helpful to me and my friends that travelled with me. We got a great opportunity to ask questions that we were concerned about before leaving to the unfamiliar Country of Nigeria!! Volunteering in the Ibadan Motherless Baby Home

Without a doubt the four of us stood out with our white skin but the people of Ibadan, Nigeria greeted us warmly. It was fantastic to have the opportunity to become familiar with their cultures,languages and traditions. (VIP) Ireland and the staff in Nigeria took fantastic care of us, our host family was so welcoming and friendly.

I worked in an orphanage for motherless babies for 4 weeks.These babies were beautiful and so intelligent as they had very little English but by using some natural gestures of communication they began to understand me and the other volunteers. The work was challenging but also hugely rewarding for me. Thanking you (VIP) for this opportunity to visit Africa and to make a contribution on making a difference within the Nigerian society."

Notes from Mexico

My name is Annabelle, I’m from Germany and I spent the summer of 2008 in Barra de Potosi, a small town in the Coast of Mexico. It was one of the best decisions of my life to volunteer there. The most important thing was that I lived with a kind, big and welcoming family. I could get to know a little bit of the Mexican traditions that are so different from the Europeans. In Night Reading Clubgeneral life in Barra is slower, not as fast as in Germany, where people live to work. In Barra family is the most important thing you have: they talk, they laugh and they share a lot of time together. I needed only a little of time to become part of “my” family. I went with them to watch to soccer games, to visit different towns and attended very entertaining parties!

Besides my life with my family, I had my work with the kids in Barra....READ MORE

Notes from a Guatemalan Volunteer in Turkey - Summer

"Since I decided to contact 'VIP' to volunteer in Turkey, and being myself a Guatemalan, I was sure I will have a very fulfilling and exotic experience. And my expectations did not fall short: I found Istanbul a city full of ancient history –Constantinople, the Ottoman Empire, its mosques, etc.- though it has the vibrant rhythm of modern life.

Guatemalan Volunteer with Turkish Co-Workers

Thanks to the Project, I had the opportunity to admire and share its cultural beacons, but I also realized that it is people its most valuable treasure. Even before starting my experience in Turkey, Guatemala’s project coordinator –Carlos Colombi- was an always available helping hand for completing the process. And from day one, while being received in the airport by the Project staff, I could really experience the famous Turkish hospitality.

My host family has been wonderful with me, with constant caring and considerations that made me feel like home –thank you very much Kamelya for your trust and friendship-. And Turkish language classes and cultural recommendations from the Project have proved to be a useful resource and help, thanks to Ilknur.

Speaking about my colleagues at the Ozgurluk Parki- The Liberty Park, they have all been so kind, warm and welcoming that I cannot imagine a better place and group to work with. Thanks to Seralp, Burcu, Nilgun, Arzu, Celal, Nihat and the rest of the staff at the park.

I regret I will stay for such a short time but I assure you all that it has been an experience I will cherish very close to my heart. Thanks to the Experiment for making this happen! Teşekkür ederim, Istanbul and V.I.P.!"

Francisco Palomo

Notes from Turkey

I spent three weeks working at Kadın Koordinasyon Merkezi (KKM) (Women's Coordination Center) in Istanbul.  At this office, they provided many forms of support to local women who were in need.  During my time at KKM, I rotated on a daily basis through three different functions.  Half of my time I spent in their textile workshop, where I ironed and did some easy sewing.  I had never sat at a sewing machine in my life, but my coworkers showed me how.  The other half of the time, I sorted clothing donations and helped create house-wares (like picture frames) that local women could use.  I liked the fact that I did different jobs throughout--it made each day different.

I wanted an assignment that would make me feel like I made a difference and genuinely contributed, despite only being available for 3 weeks.  KKM *definitely* succeeded.  I worked 7 hours a day and could see the difference I made.  My coworkers gave me relatively easy tasks so they could focus on the harder work.  It was very, very fulfilling to know I made a difference.

The KKM facility was terrific.  they had a shuttle that would drive me from the Asian side of the city (where I lived) to the office on the European side.  They also had a large kitchen and a cooking staff--we all got a free, hot lunch every day (delicious Turkish food!).  There were two breaks during the workday.  My colleagues would get hot tea from the kitchen, and we all took turns bringing in sweets...

... These people were incredibly welcoming and giving.  They gave me some beautiful gifts as I left.  They also invited me to a couple of events outside of work, but I was unable to go. I was very, very sad to leave them--everyone at this facility went out of their way to be nice to me.  I would highly, enthusiastically recommend working at KKM to anyone else.


Notes from South Africa

Katie's background in non profit management and organizational development was a perfect match for the research project that was needed at the Guga S'Thebe Arts Center in South Africa, as they worked to develop their identity in the community and their long term goals for the future. In her two months there, she worked with the people at the center, developed some unorthodox research strategies, and successfully created a working model for their strategic planning process. Her essay about her experiences at Guga S'Thebe follows.

Guga Sthebe

South Africa is like no other place I have ever been to. The landscape is absolutely beautiful, the people are amazing, and they have such great spirits and sense of hope for the future. Cape Town is a very diverse and exciting place. It is nestled between the enormous Table Mountain and the sea. I quickly learned that racial segregation is still evident, and the stark contrast between the rich and the poor is visible and I was living it during my volunteer project. I worked in Langa Township, lived in a “coloured” community and spent time with a friend's family who live in a very wealthy part of Cape Town. It was an intense intercultural experience and at times very hard for me to get my head around it .

As soon as I started my volunteer project, I knew that the work would be interesting but spending time in a township would be a life transforming experience. My project took place at Guga S'Thebe Arts and Culture Center in the oldest township in Cape Town, Langa. On my first day I was introduced to all of the staff. A few people were a bit reserved at first but once we struck up conversation we talked for hours. We shared stories, discussed the center , the projects they were working on, apartheid, the history of Langa, our families, HIV/AIDS, Cape Town, tourists, their concerns for the future and the list goes on and on. I heard more fascinating and compelling stories in my two months working at Guga S'Thebe than ever before in my life.

The Cape Town Department of Arts and Culture opened Guga S'Thebe five years ago. In the beginning it was a vibrant community center for Langa residents to go to learn a new skill, play music, dance and hold meetings . Recently, Guga S'Thebe has become a tourist attraction as well. When I spoke with Langa residents and asked them how they viewed Guga S'Thebe most of them said that is a place for tourists. When people go on township tours they stop at Guga S'Thebe for a tour and to purchase local art, jewellery, pottery and music. My project was to research how staff members view the Guga S'Thebe now, where they see it in the future and to strategize ways to educate the community about the center . This brought me to several different places around Langa and the Western Cape, including the Cape Town Department of Arts and Culture, Khayelitsa Township, SASTS office, Mamma Nomsa's house and Stellenbosch.

The project was exciting and I knew it was perfect for me because of my background in organizational development and non-profit management. At first I decided to create a questionnaire or survey and conduct informational interviews with all Guga S'Thebe staff. After speaking with a few community members and Alfred the leader at the center , I realized that if I sat down with a piece of paper and a pen writing down every word people say they would not open up to me, especially since I had only been there a short time. So I scraped the questionnaire, threw out any sort of model or research framework I learned about in graduate school and just talked to people in the same way I did when I first arrived. The information that was gathered was overwhelming and innovative ideas emerged. It was incredible and I experienced a paradigm shift. All of the staff members signed off on the report and we shared it with the Cape Town Department of Arts and Culture. My project was coming to an end and the next volunteer was arriving soon.

My last few days at Guga S'Thebe were very quiet and sad. I returned home, started work again and got back to my routine. After being home for about a month I received an email from the Cape Town Department of Arts and Culture and learned that the report we created is going to be used as a basis for Guga S'Thebe's strategic planning process. I also heard that several of my fellow volunteers received similar news such as funding was secured, HIV/AIDS conferences produced and school supplies purchased. Community members always expressed the ways volunteers make a lasting impression but it is the communities that make a life long impact on volunteers.

Comments from volunteers to Nigeria

“The programme has really opened my eyes to the difficulties facing NGOS with regards to development... I will cherish every memory, as not one day has passed that I didn't gain insight into another culture...the people are the most welcoming, friendly and fun that I have met in a long time.”

Sarah from Ireland

“Best memories of Nigeria are the people who I have met, the peacefulness of their lives and their culture”.

Rosa from Spain

"The best aspect of the programme, to learn to know the hospitality and friendliness of Nigerian people.… To see the eyes of the children in the Motherless (home), to make them smile, to be part of a Nigerian family and live the daily life and share problems and many good moments. "

Melaine from Germany

"My host family could not have done more to make me feel at home. I had my own room and bathroom. I ate with the children in the home daily and they made such an effort to accommodate my dietary requirements. I had an incredible time and learned so much during my time at Erobodo Home. The work was tough but very rewarding.

… I really enjoyed the markets both in Abeokuta and Ado Ekiti. I love to shop at home so loved seeing all of the clothes. "

Memories of Nigeria.

"Volunteering for 2 months in Nigeria has taught me more than I learned in year at home … you learn so much about your own strengths and capability but more importantly your weakness.. it is an incredible experience and one that will stay with me for the rest of my life. "

Noelle from Ireland

"I learned a lot about myself and about the children it was a big challenge for me but I could succeed so in the end, I am very happy having participated (in) the program.… I learned not to give up. I become more matured I have learned that you have to accept culture differences if you want to work in another country. I learned a lot about Nigeria and the life in adeveloping country that will help me in professional future life...The programme is very, very good and I was happy to have SYTO in my background. "

Linda from Germany