Words and photos by Eda Tajuddin.
It’s crazy how quickly and how drastically your perspective can change. Quitting my job in London and moving to Mexico to volunteer was terrifying even though I was lucky enough to have the financial and moral support I needed. Still, when you’re in a bubble obsessed with job security, financial stability, mortgages and so on, moving across the world for a non-paying role just isn’t the done thing. Now, 2 months into my adventure, I can’t imagine going back (sorry Mum). The world has been opened. Every day I meet more inspiring people with even more ambitious plans and suddenly anything is possible and nothing is crazy.
I left London to pursue my true passion: working for a non-profit. In order to do this, I needed experience and couldn’t think of a better setting than Latin America where I could also improve my Spanish. It was tough finding an organization that met all my criteria but after hours of searching and scrolling, En Vía was the first one that ticked all the right boxes. En Vía is sensational. In a world of cynicism, it’s one of the few non-profit models I can truly get behind, and being here in the thick of it only makes me appreciate their work even more. It tackles the 2 biggest social issues that our world faces today: poverty and gender inequality. It does this in the most sustainable and effective way possible – through opportunity and empowerment, which is the only real way to create long-term solutions.
So, after a couple of interviews with the En Vía staff and some sad goodbyes to my beloved friends and family, with trembling knees, I boarded the plane.
Oaxaca is beautiful. It’s arty and friendly and genuine. It somehow manages to strike the perfect balance between being a sleepy town and a bustling hub that always has something interesting to offer. It also helped that everyone in En Vía was so welcoming. I had told them that I wanted to get involved with as much as possible – I wanted to get all the exposure I could… and that is exactly what they gave me.
In the mornings I work in the “office” with Mica, the Responsible Tourism Program Manager (our office is a small table on a porch, overlooking a beautiful garden with a fountain). Here, I help out with administration, the “nitty-gritty” stuff that needs to be done behind the scenes to ensure that the tours run smoothly. It tests and develops my organizational and time-management skills and gives me an insight into the hard work and meticulous detail that is required in a self-sustaining microfinance organization. Mica is nothing short of a strategic genius. Her energy and enthusiasm are contagious and I feel so lucky that I get to work so closely with her. I also take care of the social media for En Vía, which I #reallyreallylove. It allows me to be creative and I can revel in the little pleasure of coming up with amusing hashtags (please support and follow us – each “like” gives me an irrational sense of achievement).
Twice a week, I go teaching in one of the 6 communities we work in – Tlacochahuaya (I spent the first couple of weeks just mumbling that whenever I had to say it). The English Teaching Program is run by our volunteer English coordinators, Juliet and Sarah, who are a wonderful team and both incredibly dedicated to their program’s mission.
And then there are the tours, which I get to co-lead every so often. This means great food, beautiful scenery and inspiring company – this applies to both the borrowers we meet and the tourists that come along. I have been able to meet people of all ages and from all walks of life and it is definitely one the biggest perks of the job.
A snap from the first En Vía tour I observed training to be a guide – got to see a natural dying demonstration!
En Via has an unbelievably strong team of talent and diversity and I wish I had enough space to talk about all the wonderful volunteers I get to work with. So Happy International Volunteer Day and thank you, En Vía. I am incredibly honoured to be able to work with such a fantastic team that continues to give me great opportunities, unique experiences and long-lasting memories. And even though this is just the start of my adventure in Latin America, there isn’t one part of me that doubts that I will be back.
The Value of Volunteering
En Vía has a small staff and lots to do. But we don’t involve volunteers just because we’re a tiny non-profit running things on a shoestring, with so much work we bring in volunteers to take on work for free. Research shows that small but high-performing non-profits involve volunteers effectively. En Vía is committed to integrating volunteers into our program as a reflection of our organization’s goals- we aim to provide education and empowerment opportunities and encourage personal development not just for our clients, but also for our volunteers.
At En Vía, volunteers of all genders, ages, and backgrounds help us in furthering our mission. Whether it’s English teaching in the communities, connecting responsible tourists with En Vía borrowers, photographing clients with their loan purchases, or getting stuck in “behind the scenes” as Eda does, volunteers are a huge part of what we do.
Volunteerism is too often talked about as something to supplement the work of paid staff for an organization, or, particularly for younger generations, as a requirement to boost CVs and university applications. By contrast, volunteerism for En Vía means meaningful engagement – our work is enabled and enhanced by the contributions of volunteers, and so we strive to ensure a truly positive and rewarding experience for them.
It’s an important time to recognize the hard work and achievements of volunteers everywhere who work for the greater good. As highly as I regard all our En Vía volunteers, We know that they’re not donating their unpaid service just to be selfless, spread sunshine and be drowned in effusive thanks. En Vía recognises that there are loads of excellent reasons for people to seek out a volunteering experience for themselves: for their sense of adventure, for their desire to gain skills and experience, for FUN. These intrepid individuals enrich our organization and today we celebrate those past, present and prospective. Thank you!
-Fundación En Vía