Name: Amanda Bird
Hometown: Verona, Wisconsin
Nationality: United States
University: University of Wisconsin – Madison
Degree: Rehabilitation Psychology
Languages spoken: English, Spanish (intermediate)
Past travel experience: Newbie
Volunteer Abroad: Caring for children with disabilities in Cusco, Peru
Duration: 4 weeks
Start month: August 2016
Claim to fame: Amanda has worked with people of all abilities, and she believes it is important to value each person’s strengths and their story. This can easily be applied to people of different cultures. Very impressive Amanda, keep up the good work!
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
After I graduated from college, I found myself taking a gap year before graduate school that I hadn’t necessarily planned on taking. I realized that I may not have another opportunity to live in another country and volunteer for an extended amount of time. I did some researching of different international volunteer organizations and was disappointed to find a lot of expensive organizations geared towards “volun-tourism.” I knew I wanted to make an impact, and UBELONG had everything set up to help me make that happen.
What is your favorite memory?
In the last two weeks of my project, I worked in a classroom for children with cerebral palsy and Down Syndrome. The first week was challenging as I was trying to figure out my role in the classroom and gain respect from the mothers and teacher. I spent most of my time playing with the children, introducing them to different sensory experiences, and supporting them in activities of daily living while the mothers cleaned or decorated the classroom. The children’s faces would light up every time I saw them.
On my last day at my project, the teacher and mothers of the children I worked with gave me a beautiful doll of a young Peruvian girl dressed in traditional clothing and holding a llama. As they gave me the doll, they told me the doll was so I never forget the children. They urged me to visit them if I ever return to Cusco and to come back to teach everything I know once I finish school so they can help their children more. I fought back tears as I left the school that day. What may seem to be a small gesture really meant that I was successful in what I had set out to do by volunteering abroad: make an impact.
This continued two weeks after my project had ended and I had returned home when I heard from another volunteer who still is in Cusco. She had talked to the mother of one of the children I worked with, and the mother mentioned how great of a volunteer I was and that I worked well with the kids. She even called me “our chica”. Hearing this made my day, and was just another sign that I made an impact on those kids and their mothers.
Tell me about somebody you met who impressed you.
I was incredibly impressed by the teachers of the two classrooms I volunteered in. Both women chose the profession despite the harsh culture that surrounds disability in Cusco. Both women also had incredible patience. Their students either had a wide age range (ages 4-11) or a diversity of disabilities and level of functioning. Either situation makes it very difficult to manage the students, and somehow they manage to do it every day. Finally, these teachers had relationships with the families of the children that made them appear to be family themselves. These teachers are helping a severely underserved population in their society, and the way they do their jobs is very impressive.
In a sentence or less, how would you describe local life?
Local life is full of Peruvian traditions that embraces the concept of “Peruvian time”.
What three pieces of advice would you give to a future UBELONG Volunteer?
- Try not to have any expectations. Life is so different that it won’t compare to your expectations anyways.
- Kindness will go a long way. If you feel like you aren’t making progress in your project or are having a hard time connecting with others (for me, it was a couple mothers of the children I worked with), a little kindness / graciousness will go a long way.
- Don’t be afraid to try new things. Take every opportunity that comes your way – because how many times are you going to be living in Peru?!