Volunteering At A Rescue Shelter in Guatemala City

Finding the right volunteering position is hard work. Is it ethical volunteering? Will I make a difference? Is the project sustainable? How do I know that the organisation is doing the right thing? These questions were all swirling through my head as I started to search for the right volunteering position for me. Finally, I found it in La Alianza- volunteering at a rescue shelter in Guatemala City.

What is volunteering at a rescue shelter like?

Volunteering at a rescue shelter in Guatemala www.grassrootsnomad.com teaching english

La Alianza is a rescue shelter in Guatemala City for girls and adolescents, as well as their children and female siblings, who are victims of sexual violence or human trafficking.

Originally, I had hoped that I would spend my days either working in the shelter or helping prepare the girls for their court cases . But volunteering is all about flexibility and unfortunately my Spanish wasn’t good enough for those jobs. So, I came up with other ideas that met my skill set as well as the needs of the organisation.

A lot of the donations for the shelter come from foreign organisations, however, the latest annual report was only in Spanish. I spoke with the Director, Carolina Escobar Sarti, and we decided that I should translate their annual report into English.  This would be an important resource to help the organisation source additional funding and provide valuable information to their supporters about their progress to date. Having never translated anything before, and with only five weeks of Spanish lessons under my belt, this proved to be quite the challenge!

One of my favourite jobs during my time with La Alianza was teaching English to some of the girls. Most of them already study English at school, however, most of the teachers are not native speakers so often they don’t get to hear native speakers accents or learn slang or more colloquial expressions. Twice a week, I held classes for about 10 of the girls and we focused on the basics – such as introducing yourself, colours and clothing. The girls were shy at first but, over time, I saw them practising more and more often. They would even ask me how to say particular sentences so they could impress their mother’s during the next family visit!

Volunteering at a rescue shelter in Guatemala www.grassrootsnomad.com

Since leaving Guatemala, I have been filming videos of English (ESL) lessons for the girls and adolescents at La Alianza. After speaking with Carolina, we have decided to post these videos online to help other volunteers and anyone else who is hoping to learn English. These videos have been tailored to meet the needs of the girls at La Alianza and have Spanish subtitles, however,l our hope is that they are useful to a range of audiences. These videos will be available on the Grassroots Nomad YouTube channel.

I also tutored one of the girls, *Claire, in one-on-one sessions. Claire is a very special young lady who is part of the La Alianza Transition House program. After turning 18 years old, she moved into Transition House, which is a stepping stone between living at the shelter and living independently. Here, Claire was helped to find a job at a call centre where she worked in English, and she was given support and advice to prepare her for an independent life after she leaves La Alianza.

I have never been so proud as when she came into the office to tell me that she passed her exams (one of the few students to do so), and had been given the top client at work. La Alianza doesn’t just help the girls escape bad situations – they give them the confidence and skills necessary to live successful and happy lives.

What were the girls like?

Volunteering at a rescue shelter in Guatemala City La Alianza www.grassrootsnomad.com

To say that the girls and adolescents at La Alianza are tough is an understatement. While I will not talk about specific cases, most of the girls have experienced horrific sexual abuse, often at the hands of family members. Some girls arrive at the shelter pregnant, or with babies, with medical problems, and with psychological issues as a result of this trauma. Some have even been victims of human trafficking.

Despite this, they all support one another and have made their own little community. This is all due to the incredible philosophy and mission of La Alianza under the leadership and guidance of Carolina Escobar and her team. They adopt a holistic approach to healing that fosters hope, personal development, as well as changing perceptions. When leaving La Alianza, the girls and adolescents not only have the skills required to succeed in life, but also the inner strength and courage to aim for the clouds. In doing so, the perception of the rights of the child has been challenged in Guatemala.

The La Alianza team is one big family. Everyone looks after each other and I felt this warmth as soon as I walked into the offices. The girls and adolescents are welcomed into the shelter with open arms and are loved and accepted for who they are. Thanks to the spectacular staff, the girls are shown that there are people in the world who care for them and want them to succeed.

What was living in Guatemala City like?

The hardest part about my volunteering experience (apart from learning Spanish) was actually living in Guatemala City. It is a dangerous city, and while I never once felt uneasy or unsafe, this meant that it was very hard to make friends. There aren’t many social groups that you can join or places to go and just hang out. Everyone always has a reason for leaving the house and they aren’t too open to talking to strangers. This meant that I was often very lonely and sometimes it made it hard to stay positive.

Who are La Alianza?

Volunteering at a rescue shelter in Guatemala www.grassrootsnomad.com la alianza

La Alianza is the Guatemalan branch of Covenant House. They serve and protect homeless children and adolescents and work with these boys, girls and adolescents to establish a pact of trust, respect and unconditional love. They are committed to creating exceptional opportunities for the personal development and well-being of children and adolescents in their care so they can reach their highest potential. For more information about La Alianza, or to donate online to help them continue this important work, please visit their website (Spanish only) or an English summary on the main Covenant House website.

Have you volunteered before? We would love to hear from you!

If you have volunteered with a small, community-based organisation that upholds the values of responsible volunteering, we would love to hear from you! If you would like to share your story, please email laura@grassrootsnomad.com Thank you!

 

*Name has been changed to protect this woman’s identity.

Do you want to volunteer in Guatemala. Read about my time volunteering at a rescue shelter in Guatemala City. Read at www.grassrootsnomad.com

 

Related Post

41 Comments
katy@untoldmorsels

I love your posts Laura. I always discover something new and interesting about the world, in this case Guatemala. I also like learning about organisations like La Alianza who are helping vulnerable children like Claire build a better future. Thanks for sharing

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

Thanks so much Katy, that is so lovely of you! I’m so glad you enjoyed the article 🙂

Reply
prair

I agree! It’s really nice to know that these organizations are out there doing hard work to help change the lives of vulnerable people.

Reply
Gina Bear

I really like how you approached this with respect and love. Thank you for protecting the girl’s identity and blurring out her face. I would like to volunteer one day as I am fluent in Spanish.

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

Thanks Gina. It is particularly important to protect the identity of these girls as they are in the middle of court cases so their abusers don’t know where they are being held. Being fluent in Spanish would definitely make a difference!!!

Reply
PaigeBrown

I think this was so excellently written. I love that you protected the identities of the victims, and that even though you didn’t get to do the things you set out to do with this organization, you still found your way of making a difference. Thank you for sharing a beautiful post about a very special opportunity.

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

Thanks so much Paige! It really emphasized the need for flexibility when volunteering 🙂

Reply
Katelyn

I’m so glad you had a positive experience Laura! I know how worried you were going into. Sounds like both you and all the girls learned and grew together. Now you’ll have to give me Spanish lessons! 🙂

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

hahha, I’m not that good! We have to catch up again soon – more hiking please!!!

Reply
Hung Thai [Up Up and a Bear]

Whenever I read about exploited children (by their own family), I get really upset. But I’m glad you were there. I love all your volunteering stories. You’re a wonderful role model for travelers everywhere. Thanks for all that you do. By the way, did you manage to translate that annual report?

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

Thanks so much! I actually just pressed send on the final copy!! Can’t wait to have some of the videos uploaded as well 🙂

Reply
Megan Indoe

You’re absolutely right, it really is getting very tricky to figure out which kind of volunteering abroad is beneficial and okay to do. It takes alot of hard work to make sure you’re participating in the right kind. It looks like guys found a great one! I will keep this in mind if anyone asks us about volunteering!

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

It took me about 6 months of researching and investigating to find it, but I’m so glad I took the time to find a place that was a good match for myself and the organisation. Thanks so much for reading 🙂

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

Thank you – It was really hard hearing about the horrific abuse that these girls had faced. They still managed to be so positive and I think that has to do with how La Alianza treats them. They have such hope for the future.

Reply
Christina

This must have been such a rewarding experience. I truly commend your dedication to trying to make this world a better place. It must have been so emotional to see all the pain that these victims have gone through. And to be able to see them on the other side knowing they are armed with tools for a better future…just wow! You inspire me with all your stories.

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

Thanks so much Christina. At times it was really hard but the girls were so inspiring. They have been through horrible experiences but are coming out the other side with dreams for a better future.

Reply
Stella the Travelerette

I am glad you had such a rewarding experience in Guatemala. I teach ESL and I do find it to be a rewarding experience. Knowing English is a useful skill for anyone to have in today’s world, so it’s great that you are helping the girls learn something that could help them get a better job and have more options. It’s amazing to think about how resilient these girls must be after all they’ve been through!

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

Thanks Stella – teaching ESL really is a challenge so I admire you so much for doing it!

Reply
everyfootstepanadventure

I love reading about your volunteering experiences. Thanks for sharing! I’m thinking about volunteering somewhere in the coming year and will be going through your archives for ideas 🙂

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

That is so good to hear! I have a monthly guest post series where people share their stories so you might be able to get some tips from there 🙂

Reply
The Thought Card

I can always come to your blog and walk away feeling changed in some way. I loved when you said that volunteering is all about flexibility and you found ways to contribute although language was a barrier. Very moving and the trauma these women face – wow.

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

That is so lovely of you to say! I know, I can’t begin to tell you how tough these girls and teenagers are. Some are only 13 years old but have kids but they are still positive for their future.

Reply
Anna

I think it’s amazing that you went past your ego and did really important, if not as glamourous, job, behind the scenes. You took your stenghts and weaknesses into consideration with honesty and came up with a great plan to utilize your skills – big kudos on that!

Also, I know what it’s like to be lonely in another country – no matter how much you love meeting other cultures, sometimes the difference in experiences means that it’s very difficult to find somebody who understands you. But in the end it’s all worth it, right?

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

Thanks so much Anna! It was really hard at times, but i am so glad I took up the challenge and it is something that I will never forget!!!

Reply
casstravels

I love hearing about all of the various opportunities to work and learn about the local culture you share here 🙂 Such a different and wonderful way to experience more of the world!

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

Thanks so much! Volunteering has been one of my favourite parts about my recent travels. I even spent a day here in NYC volunteering before I head off to Canada – such a great way to meet local people in the community 🙂

Reply
Eva Casey

What important work! This is very inspiring to hear about people making a real difference with love, support and community. I would love to be able to do something like that one day. Thank you for sharing!

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

Thanks Eva – have you thought about volunteering before? There are lots of great opportunities out there and probable some projects in your home town that you would be able to try out if you aren’t currently travelling 🙂

Reply
Sally E

Laura, wow! What an amazing experience. It’s so nice to see how you utilized your personal skill sets to make a difference in the community that really benefitted. 🙂

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

Thanks Sally! It is all about being flexible I’ve found – I definitely didn’t go into it thinking that I would be translating or teaching English, but it was great to be able to use skills that I hadn’t previously even considered (or knew I had!)

Reply
Organized Wanderer

Volunteering while on a holiday / break is not written about half as much as the hedonistic holidays that most people (including myself) pursue – and that is really unfortunate. This blog post of yours has opened my eyes to the possibilities – thank you for that.

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

That is wonderful to hear! I actually am visiting my sister in NYC at the moment and spent a day volunteering with local organisations. I’ll be writing about it in the next few weeks to help show people that you can volunteer even only for a few hours while on holiday! It really helped me get to know New Yorkers and see parts of the city that I would never have experienced otherwise 🙂

Reply
Tabitha

Wow! That must have been a life-shaping experience. I spent 8 months in Antigua and can’t imagine having to live in the capital..it always exhausted me!
I had heard of many cases of abuse and trafficking and was always wondering where the shelters were…this is part of the answer I was looking for! Thanks!

Reply
Grassroots Nomad

Hahah, it was a challenging place to live, that’s for sure! What were you doing in Antigua? I only visited once but it is a beautiful city. I’d love to hear more about your experiences in Guatemala!

Reply
Cristina

I’m ashamed to say that I have never volunteered. I was planning too, when I went to South America, but it never happened :(. I hope to have an opportunity, and more importantly, time to do it.
Great post.
Cristina

Reply
Katie McIntosh

What an experience! Sometimes we talk about visiting this tourist spot or seeing this beautiful landscape but it moments like the experience you just shared that really make the traveling experience life changing!

Reply

Leave a Reply to The Thought Card Cancel reply