Name: Elizabeth Ames
Hometown: Midland, Michigan
Nationality: United States
Languages spoken: English, Spanish (intermediate)
University: University of Pennsylvania
Bachelors: Communications and Criminology
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Assisting at a shelter for girls in Cusco, Peru
Duration: 4 weeks
Start month: February 2016
Claim to fame: Elizabeth has a strong work ethic. This is one of the reasons she studies at an Ivy League school and did so well on a UBELONG Volunteer Abroad program – UBELONGers are a cut above the rest.
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I knew I was going to be a part-time student, and I was afraid of being bored in my last semester of college. I wanted to travel but I also wanted to do volunteer work, and UBELONG is, of course, the perfect blend of both. I was drawn to UBELONG over other organizations because I could work with girls who were victims of violence, which is something that’s really important to me. The deal was made even sweeter because I could do this work in Peru, which was a place I’d never been before and I could practice my Spanish.
What was your impact on your volunteer project?
I spent every morning from 9-1 with the girls, and we would play volleyball, run relay races, draw, make bracelets, or just sit around and talk. As an outsider, I was nervous at first about the girls liking me, but right away I felt a connection to them. The girls would talk to me about what jobs they wanted to do when they were older, boy problems, or to tell me stories about their childhoods. By the end of the month, I felt like they were all my sisters and I was so sad to leave! I think I gave each girl three separate hugs goodbye because none of us wanted the month to end.
What advice would you tell a future volunteer?
Don’t be shy! Everyone is so nice and they want to help you. In Peru, they love it when people try to speak Spanish, even if you aren’t very good. My first week I was really shy and scared about speaking Spanish, but once I got in the swing of things I had a much better experience with everyone – shop owners, the girls in the shelter, and other people I met. Also, I would highly recommend getting to know people who live in Cusco in addition to other volunteers. They can show you cool parts of the city that you may not have found on your own, and you can learn so much more about the Peruvian culture and history. Just don’t be scared to put yourself out there, or else you’ll miss out on so much.
In a sentence or less, how would you sum up your experience?
It was like the best dream you could ever have, but instead of lasting a few hours it lasted a whole month!