“Seeing how much these little kids just wanted a hug or a smile was humbling and unforgettable.”

UBELONG Snapshot
Name: Kayla Gardiner
Age: 18
Hometown: Kelowna, British Columbia
Nationality: Canada
High school: Kelowna Secondary School
Occupation: Student
Languages spoken: English, Spanish (beginner)
Past travel experience: Germany, Belgium, France, United States and throughout Canada
Volunteer Abroad: Caring for disadvantaged youth in Merida, Mexico
Duration: 3 weeks
Start month: September 2014
Claim to fame: Kayla is a remarkable young woman who has grown up with children all her life. She has younger siblings and often volunteers locally.

Why did you volunteer abroad?
I volunteered abroad to open myself to new experiences while also being able to do something meaningful. Submersing myself in a culture foreign to my own and learning different ways of life was really a bonus. I chose Mexico because it isn’t like many of the other countries people go to volunteer. It is one of the more developed countries, however most people don’t realize that there is so much we can do there to help.

What challenged you the most?
What challenged me most was not being able to speak Spanish that well. Since the children I was with were only 2-3 years old, they didn’t understand that I couldn’t really understand them. But I found different ways to interact and play with them that made the language barrier not so challenging and more of an opportunity to learn and grow. I learned so much more from those three year old children than I ever would have thought I could prior to volunteering.

How did you change from the experience?
By the end of the experience, I had seen quite a lot, but it was the little things that changed me.  Seeing how much these little kids just wanted a hug or a smile was humbling and unforgettable. It was something so easy to give, yet meant the world to them. The relationship between the people who worked at the orphanage and the kids also taught me a lot. It was inspiring and admirable. I saw firsthand that helping didn’t have to be anything that would be a big, difficult step, it was in the little things that brought happiness and comfort to those who needed it most.

In a sentence or less, describe your experience.
Unforgettable, life-changing and invaluable.


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Meet Mia, a University of Florida student who volunteered in Mexico with UBELONG on the caregiving projects.