“By staying for 6 months, I was able to see the impact of my work and watch the children grow.”


UBELONG Snapshot
Name: Ines Torres
Age: 32
Hometown: Lisbon, Portugal
Nationality: Portugal
Languages spoken: Portuguese, Spanish (advanced), English (advanced)
Occupation: Business Excellence Specialist at Nestle Portugal
Past travel experience: Avid
Volunteer Abroad: Care and Teach for Children from Poor Backgrounds in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Duration: 24 weeks
Start month: July 2015
Claim to fame: In her hometown of Lisbon, Portugal, Ines volunteers at a shelter for disadvantaged children. Great job Ines, and obrigado for your service!

Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
Travel is one of my passions and favorite things to do in life! Either for a short weekend or for a few weeks, I simply love it! It is something that completes me! I have been a volunteer several times and in many different situations in my home country. So I thought: why not put these two conditions together and enjoy the most of it for a while!? Helping other people that really need while living in a 100% different environment is an opportunity that you don’t have every day!

In the past year, I can say that I had the perfect circumstances to pursue something that I’ve always wanted to do but “it was never the right time”! So, I asked for an unpaid leave from work for few months and was able to live “the once in a lifetime experience” – 6 months volunteering with children! A dream come true! Only by living under certain special circumstances you will understand the needs and the points of view of cultures from developing countries! I really wanted to understand what a developing country was like and experience its daily life. Also, by living out of our comfort zone we have the opportunity to grow up in an exponential and different way than when you are living your daily routines.

I did some online research and checked some NGOs that would have the programs that I was interested in. I got really interested in UBELONG due to the programs they had and their flexibility (in what concerned time & place), the “clean & transparent” worldwide structure and the reviews from other volunteers. But overall, I must say that the feedback from former volunteers was one of my main influence to become an UBELONGer. Also, each time that I had some doubt and for some reason had to get in touch with UBELONG the answer was brief, quick, clear and immediate and always straight to the point. UBELONG also have some Portuguese roots which in fact and in the end also counted!

I am really happy I became a UBELONGer, and I must confess that if I could go back in time I would have taken exactly the same decision! Everything went well and each time that I needed help someone was always there for me. I was volunteering for six months, and for six months I always had my UBELONG Mentor taking care of me and asking me if everything was going according to my expectations.

What was your impact on your volunteer project?
I was teaching English and caregiving to 4-5 years old children from really poor families from the Phnom Penh suburbs villages. Most of the kid’s parents worked at the Phnom Penh’s dump and they could not take care of the children during the working hours, as well as they could not afford a regular school where to leave the kids.

Overall I consider the impact of my work very positive and relevant. In countries like Cambodia the smallest thing you do makes a huge difference! In my opinion, the point is to turn those things sustainable in time, mostly in the long term, as well as through generations! Making the changes last is difficult… But not impossible!

My feeling was that just by being there, spending time with those amazing kids and teaching them small things such as how to take a shower appropriately, made a difference in their lives. Although for sure, the impact that they had in my life was much bigger than I had on their lives. They taught me so much more than I could ever teach them!

I was able to see and feel the impact of my work by watching the kids growing up every day, by teaching them the letters, numbers, colors, body parts, fruits, animals, emotions, etc! By being there for such a long time (6 months) I saw some of the kids getting ready and prepared for the primary school. As the time went by I was also able to see the older ones helping the younger ones in simply tasks as eating or dancing. The cutest thing ever!

I must say that with some deep human emotions, smiles, tears and warm gestures all the language and cultural barriers were smaller than expected or even demolished!

Together with the staff I also visited the village where the kids live a few times and along with other volunteers I had the chance to help some of the families that lived there. Due to the children’s age (older than 6 years old) they couldn’t sign in for the daycare and the primary school was too far away to walk… So we bought 3 bicycles, school materials and signed these siblings in the primary school!

What were your major challenges?
My major challenges were:
-Understanding that poverty will not end just because I was working hard on it, and
-Understanding that the world would not change although I was doing my part!

When you came from a different culture and when you see some kind of things not “normal” in your life, you just feel like you want to help and do something for everyone immediately! I had to control myself on that because I wanted to help every person and family that I was seeing in trouble or with some problems! I helped and reached a lot of people but I couldn’t helped them all! That is probably one of the main challenges a volunteer faces!

You also get used to meet a lot of people – volunteers – and you make really good friends and you learn a lot about the world without leaving the place where you are! BUT… (There is always a “but”) when you stay for a long time you get used to goodbyes… Goodbyes became a new routine of your volunteer life.

And of course… There are somethings that you totally don’t get used to, even after 6 months… The heatttt… The heat was something that didn’t get used to, at all and it brought me sleepless nights… Playing with the kids under 38ºC with a real-feel like 45º made me feel like I was in the desert!!

In a sentence or less, how would you describe the locals you met?
I was very lucky and felt really loved by the daycare staff as well as all local team! All of them were very friendly to me! I had the opportunity to know the daycare staff and their families in the Sunday meeting! Some days, for no special reason, they cooked different and tasty food for all of the volunteer’s lunch. The staff was always taking care of me and worried about me and my health! For 6 months they were my Cambodian family. I will never forget them all!

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Related post:
Meet Joao, a Universidade Nova de Lisboa undergrad, who volunteered with UBELONG at the caregiving project in Cambodia.