Name: Jeevanthee Selvarajah
Occupation: Pharmacy Assistant
Languages spoken: English, Tamil (intermediate), Hindi (beginner), and Spanish (beginner)
Past travel experience: Avid
Volunteer Abroad: Teaching English in Quito, Ecuador
Duration: 2 weeks
Start month: July 2014
Claim to fame: Crossing a rickety wooden plank, climbing steep spiral staircases and scary ladders to reach the top of the towers of Basílica del Voto Nacional in Quito, Ecuador.
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I had come to a point in my life where I decided it was time for me to give back to society and help the world. I love to travel and I felt volunteering overseas would give me the opportunity to travel with a purpose. I consider myself a quiet and shy person and I had grown comfortable with where I was but that was not satisfactory for me. I wanted to experience personal growth and evolve into a better person. To do that, I knew I had to get out of my comfort zone. I hoped that volunteering overseas and living with a local family would help me immerse myself into another culture and get a glimpse of how people in other countries lived and I could use my skills to help them. I also wanted a venue to develop my interpersonal skills, make new friends, face my fears and let myself know that I can do anything if my heart is in the right place. Becoming a UBELONG Volunteer helped me achieve all that and more.
I decided to join UBELONG because the cost was affordable, the duration of the volunteering worked with my travel schedule and it is a safe and reputable company. I knew I was in good hands, I would be taken care of and I did not have anything to be afraid of.
What was your impact on your volunteer project?
I think as much as I learned about Ecuador and experienced the culture there, my presence in the volunteer project helped my host family and also the students in my project to learn about me and my ethnic background. They had lots of questions about my Sri Lankan ancestry, my life in Canada and they were very enthusiastic when I showed pictures of the traditional clothes we wear, the food we ate, etc. I felt like it was not just a cultural learning experience for me but they learned something about the big world out there from me too.
What did you take from the experience?
My volunteering experience definitely changed me as a person. It makes me want to keep doing it. I felt a sense of satisfaction at the end of each day and that feeling of belonging and that I mattered. The students bonded with me very quickly even though there was a language barrier. I missed a day volunteering because I was sick and the next day, all the kids were asking why I didn’t come to class, where I was, etc. I was touched.
Fellow volunteers and I always ate together, walked to school together or went out together and that showed me the value of teamwork. On my last day of volunteering, I wanted to remember this experience by doing something adventurous like getting my nose pierced but I was nervous. All the volunteers I was living with were there to cheer me and support me.
I learned that amazing things happen to your personal development when you surround yourself with friendly, positive, generous, kind-hearted and helpful people who all have the similar goals as you which is to help others. My Spanish was very limited and I only knew basic phrases but I would not have been able to have such a positive experience if I did not have fellow volunteers like Leigh Cappabianca and Jacqueline Traoré by my side at all times to translate and help me. It was just amazing knowing that I was not alone.
The highlight of my experience was when my host Geovanna, her family members and fellow volunteers in the house surprised me with a birthday party on my birthday. That was probably the first time in my life I was given a surprise birthday celebration. It was hilarious how they pulled it off. They made me feel special and I definitely felt like part of a family. I gained a deeper understanding of the culture which is focus on family and supporting each other. It was also when I truly understood what UBELONG meant.
My goal was to help others and teach English but I think I was the one who benefited the most with my volunteering. Truly rewarding.
In a sentence or less, what was your funniest moment?
On my first day, a student in the older age group class asked me if I was the mother of another volunteer, Jacqueline Traoré. I didn’t think I looked old enough to have a 20 year old daughter.