Kayla Hamel graduated from McGill University in Canada with a BSc in Psychology and decided to go on a nine-month trip to her favorite destination: Latin America. In her itinerary she only missed Brazil, Paraguay and Venezuela. During her stop in Peru, she decided to serve with UBELONG. She first spent four weeks at the “psychological counseling” Volunteer Abroad in Cusco, Peru and then six weeks at the “needs assessment and program design” Volunteer Abroad in Lima, Peru. In Lima, Kayla designed and conducted a research project to better understand domestic violence issues and women’s needs in the community. For her project she worked closely with her UBELONG Mento. Kayla is now back in her native Toronto but only for a while, as she gets ready to work as Global Fellow at the Heart Alliance in Cali, Colombia. Kayla was an exemplary UBELONG volunteer. Here she shares her experience in Lima. “It was eye-opening, surprising, challenging and rewarding”.
What motivated you to seek this volunteer opportunity in Lima?
I had some research experience and I am looking to continue on that path in graduate school in the future, so this volunteer placement was a perfect fit. The placement gave me freedom to choose my research angle and a great opportunity to gain hands-on fieldwork experience. In fact, this volunteer placement is unique. It’s the only volunteer placement in research fieldwork that I could find. Also, the setting was good because I really wanted to work in Latin America.
What was most difficult or challenging to you during your placement?
Independence is inherent to this project. It’s always challenging to decide where to start and how to go about getting interviews and good data. Despite the typical difficulties of this type of work I was able to achieve my research goals.
Another challenge was understanding some of the women who participated in my study because their Spanish was colored with Quechua. My first interview was terrible but things got much better. However, at the end of my stay I visited my first interviewee again and it was great. She was so happy to see me. She was so grateful to find someone who wanted to listen to her.
Besides my research work I helped at the “teaching English” project. I had never taught before but it became one of the most rewarding activities during my stay in Lima.
What did you learn about yourself in Lima?
One thing I learned is that you can do so little and make a difference in someone’s life. In Lima I interviewed many women and learned about their lives. You may not notice it, but people feel your impact.
As a volunteer you get pushed outside your comfort zone and you need to stick it out. When I arrived in Lima I wondered if I could do a good job. Lima is so different from Cusco. I gained confidence when I realized that I could do a good job in a totally different environment.
Finally, volunteering has given me the chance to move up in my career. Since I got back to Canada, my volunteer experiences in Lima and Cusco have given me a lot of job interviews. International volunteer opportunities can help you go wherever you want to go in your professional career.