Name: Nicole Mangona
Hometown: West Hill, CA
Nationality: United States
University: California Lutheran University
Degree: Bachelors in Communication and Political Science (in progress)
Languages spoken: English and Spanish
Travel Experience: Newbie
Volunteer Abroad Program: Assisting at an after-school center in Cusco, Peru
Duration: 4 weeks
Claim to fame: Nicole works as a tutor at her university Writing Center.
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I decided to become a volunteer because I wanted to do something different in my life. During the summers, I usually intern and work. As I’m approaching my senior year of college, I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and place myself in a different country and culture. I have never traveled abroad before this experience, so I was hesitant about traveling on my own to somewhere new, but that’s all part of the experience. I researched for months and came across UBELONG.
The timing was right, the options of choosing where to go and the projects to volunteer at were abundant, and the price range was within my budget. It took time for my parents to become comfortable with the idea of me leaving for a month abroad to volunteer, but with their support and the support from my friends, I felt ready to depart to Cusco for the project.
What was your impact on your project?
Volunteering in Cusco for a month held both long-term and short-term impacts. The children at Club Corason, the after-school center I volunteered at, welcome volunteers with open arms and warm hearts. There were about four volunteers, including myself, and we would play sports, paint and color pictures, and teach English to the children.
As for long-term impacts, it is clear upon meeting the children that they look up to the volunteers as role models. Most of the children come from poor families and have a troubled family background. The parents are off at work and they don’t have time to spend with their children, so they send them to Club Corason for a few hours every weekday. The children ranged in ages from three to fifteen and most have been going to the club since they were toddlers. The children see the volunteers as big brothers and sisters and would call us hermano or hermana, brother or sister in Spanish. As a long-term impact, these children have the volunteers as guidance and support despite a hard life at home.
As for a short-term impact, the volunteers come and go at the club. I arrived for a month, spent hours playing and connecting with the children, and another volunteer replaced my position when I left. I wish I could have stayed longer, but in my heart, the experience will last a lifetime. I often spent my time coloring and drawing with the younger children. Their faces would light up whenever they showed me their pieces when they were done. The older children would also ask me to play soccer with them and though I am not good at sports, they always picked me first for their team. Near the end of my placement, the director of Club Corason took my picture and taped it on a wall, alongside pictures of past volunteers. The children were excited to see my picture up and then started pointing and saying the names of the volunteers. Some had recently left and others were there a few years back. But, it hit me that no matter the length of time a volunteer spends at the club, the children still remember them.
In the end, the long-term and short-term impacts mix. The children always remain in the present and love spending time with the volunteers, but they remember the ones from the past and their impact on them.
What did you take from the experience?
I did not know what to expect upon arriving to Cusco. I read about the culture, society, environment, and other aspects of Peru, but I was not entirely sure how my experience would turn out. At first, it was a shock to see how different the lifestyles were. The children at the club often wore the same outfits, mostly dirty with stains and rips in the clothes. The houses were made of bricks with tin sheets as the roofs and barely a room or two inside. Dogs roamed everywhere, sometimes in packs or alone at night, and trash was always to be seen. The only expectation I had was that I was going to teach the children English and be some form of guidance to them, but I learned much more from them as they ended up teaching me.
No matter where people come from, whether a nearby state or in another continent, the main connection is love. These children love to learn, to laugh, and to love other people. They have the bare essentials when it comes to living, but they are so rich in their hearts. They are happy and they easily spread that happiness to others.
What was the funniest moment?
Another volunteer and I decided to paint circles of different colors on the ground outside the club for the children to play on. We arrived at the club a few hours early and spent time sweeping, mixing paint, and filling in the circles. We were dusty and messy by the time we were done, but we were proud of our paint circles. The paint was still fresh when the children started showing up for the club, so we tried our best to keep them away while the paint dried. While we were busy telling the children to wait, some of the stray dogs from the neighborhood came from behind and ran right over the paint circles, leaving permanent paw prints and scattering dust everywhere. The children became excited and as soon as the dogs ran by, the children scrambled right over to the circles and started jumping around. The volunteer and I tried our best to keep the children away, but we looked at each other and started laughing since the circles had already been broken into by the dogs and the children. As long as the children enjoyed the new addition of color to the club, that’s all that mattered.