“I want to make an honest connection with the people, and volunteering is a great way to do that.”


Diana Clarke is a wonderful woman, and a very proud mom and grandma. She is from Charlottetown, Canada, where she is a nurse with extensive experience in the community and in the hospital.  She has done lots of camping and spent several years travelling in the Canadian north living in aboriginal communities. In December she spent two weeks in the “caring for malnourished children” Volunteer Abroad in Cusco, Peru.  Even in her short placement she proved to be an exemplary UBELONG Volunteer.

Why did you volunteer in Cusco?
Travelling for me has to be about having a real experience. I want to make an honest connection with the people, and volunteering is a great way to do that. I liked Cusco because it was one of the few places where I could still make a difference in limited time.   Although my training as a nurse allowed me to bring some child development skills to the project, the best experiences occurred when I was able to just sit with the children and show a genuine interest in who they were and what interested them. 

What kind of impact did you have on the project?
I think in two weeks my impact was minimal, but I was still part of something greater than me. There are other volunteers before and after me. In particular, I think the connections I made were valuable. The conversations and human moments I shared with the children and their mothers were honest. I learned so much about them, and I think the same is true the other way around. They also saw how much I was able to enjoy the children and the different learning activities we were able to do even without words. Laughter is such a common language. They had very limited resources, and some of the practices they used with the children were very different from what I had been trained to consider good interventions.

On a normal day I would play with individual children or lead group activities and help with the feeding. My being there allowed  them to have some one on one attention, which is rare for them. I modeled activities, for example working on fine motor skills by building with Legos. I had brought crayons and coloring paper and some crafts from home. We made paper airplanes and little necklaces with the beads, strings and jingles. And we ‘talked”, often without words, because my Spanish was so limited. I loved to see what brightened their eyes.

One boy was two and very quiet, often on his own and separate from the group. He sometimes had such a sad expression. One morning we were playing with a bright red and green toy and I showed him how the pieces could connect together. When I handed it to him to try he was so excited by the idea his hands were shaking and his eyes just shone, though he never made a sound. It is so often the little things that have the most impact.

Another boy who was around four was not able to attend the centre. He stayed with his family who were weaving and selling their products on the street. He had a job. It was to lead the family’s lama decorated with strands of bright wool to groups of tourists and ask for money for a picture.  He was really sweet and how could anyone possibly say no?  But I was aware of the ethical questions around paying him to do this and the impact it must be having on his life.  On one occasion he joined the group when we were all playing outside and  having the opportunity to play and interact with him as a child was really satisfying.  The staff and other children went out of their way to include him and that meant a lot.

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Related post:
Meet Jamie-Lee Sonnenberg-Smith, a Georgian Court University undeergrad from Canada who volunteered with UBELONG in Accra, Ghana on the Supporting Efforts to Stop Child Labor project.