“Despite not knowing any Spanish, I learned a lot from 5 year old children!”


UBELONG Snapshot
Name: Rufia Valiff
Age: 19
Hometown: Oakden, Australia
Nationality: Australia
School: University of South Australia
Degree: Psychology
Languages spoken: Russian (advanced), Tatar (advanced), and English
Past travel experience: Avid
Volunteer Abroad: Assisting at an after-school center in Cusco, Peru
Duration: 3 weeks
Start month: July 2014
Claim to fame: Rufia loves to travel and has already done a fair bit, despite being so young. She even lived in Russia for three months, staying in a camping style accommodation. Super job Rufia, welcome to the UBELONG Family!

Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I have done volunteering locally in my city and interstate all through high school and university, and had always wanted to travel overseas to a country in higher need. I love children, and seeing photos of people in impoverished countries, seeing the beautiful smiles of kids, definitely convinced me that I needed to go overseas.

I chose UBELONG because it was one of the most affordable organisations, and I’m so glad I did! I was helped every step of the way, and I never felt confused, unorganized or lost.

What was your impact on your volunteer project?
Every weekday I attended an after school care in the poorer part of the city, a half hour bus ride and walk up a dusty hill away. The children would always greet us with huge smiles and hugs, standing outside the door, bursting to come into the center. They had to brush their teeth and wash their hands before they came in everyday; hygiene was a big value of the center and we tried to teach them the significance of water, even though most didn’t have access to it.

There were about 15-20 volunteers at a time – most of them from Spain – and while that may sound like a lot, they were all needed to play with and distract the children who had so much energy! We would split them into different age groups and activities, and teach them about a different theme each week. We helped the older ones with their homework and drew and built blocks with the toddlers. At the end of every night, the volunteers would choose 4 or 5 kids who had behaved well, or helped pack up, and we sang them a song to make them feel special.

The children ranged from ages 3-15, and most of them came from troubled and poor families. Some would bring their younger siblings to look after, because the parents were at work. Most have all attended the center from a young age, and look to the volunteers as older brothers and sisters and role models. Despite not knowing any Spanish, by the end of the month I had learnt a lot, mostly from 5 year old children! The hours I spent playing, coloring and dancing with the children were the best of the trip. The memories of seeing them jumping, singing along and running after me to hold my hand calling me senorita, will stay with me forever.

Tell me about somebody you met who impressed you?
While I was volunteering in the after school care, I was so amazed at how cheerful and energetic all of the children seemed, despite not having basic hygiene, food or shelter. I gravitated towards a young girl I met named Maria, who, at the age of 12, looked after her younger disabled brother, Edwar. Edwar had cerebral palsy, and was blind and deaf. At 7 years old, he was the size of a toddler and had no control of his body. I soon came to know his and Maria’s story, and was moved to tears. They were the two youngest of 8 children, living with alcoholic parents who did not feed or change Edwar, as they had minimal food and clothing, and did not see his life as worth saving, because of his illnesses. The only time he was cared for, was when he was brought to the after school center, and the volunteers bathed him in a small tub, fed him yogurt, and changed him, all resources we had bought with our own money.

Seeing Maria carry him wrapped in a blanket on her back amazed me. This poor young girl was missing out on her childhood, and was forced to grow up too early and care for her brother. She seemed to be the only one in the family who loved him, and I was so moved by her dedication to keep him alive.

In a sentence or less, how would you describe local life?
Relaxed and friendly, but often thinking about whether they had enough clothes to keep their children warm that night.

Related post:
Meet Heather Buffo, an Ohio student who took a gap-year with UBELONG in Peru and Ecuador before going to Harvard.