Name: Danielle Schmidt
Hometown: Wauconda, Illinois
Nationality: United States
University: University of Chicago
Languages spoken: English and Spanish (intermediate)
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Assisting at a shelter for abused girls in Cusco, Peru
Duration: 6 weeks
Start month: June 2015
Claim to fame: She plays the French horn!
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
The goal of any volunteering project is, quite simply, to help. I feel that UBELONG holds true to that clear mission and keeps the volunteering abroad experience simple enough to make huge positive change. By linking with local shelters and volunteering agencies, UBELONG supports Peru, or any other country they are in, while they make their own efforts to progress. Who knows better what a community needs than the community itself? Working in a Peruvian shelter, managed locally, for me meant a larger impact. Instead of giving the fish, UBELONG truly teaches those in need how to fish.
What was your impact on your volunteer project?
During my 6 weeks at the shelter for abused girls I worked at, I helped in two different classes: ceramics and embroidery. Except I don’t know anything about painting ceramics, nor sewing! However, I realized that my mission was not to teach the girls how to paint or sew, but rather how to interact with each other, deal with a bad day, and laugh at mistakes. Although those concepts weren’t in the class description, I feel I was able to teach them a little more about life, while at the same time learning a whole lot about life myself.
What did you take from the experience?
The world we live in is so much larger than we can ever hope to conceptualize, but when we forget about the miles between our home and someone on a different continent, this giant world separated by oceans, mountains, and the imaginary borders we set up to distinguish mine from yours becomes unimportant. To the girls in the shelter I worked with, it didn’t matter that I was from a city they had never heard of. It didn’t matter that my Spanish sounded funny or I didn’t always know what they were laughing about. All that mattered to them was that I was there to really listen to what they had to say, just like they listened to what I said. At the end of the day, that’s really one of the most special experiences you can share with someone: to listen and to be heard.
In a sentence or less, how would you describe the locals you met?
Peruvians sure do walk slow, but that’s because their eyes are open to the world, seen in their willingness to help, acceptance of others who are different than them, and determination to improve their lives.