Volunteer stories : Joseph P., General International Development Projects in Mexico
Throughout my childhood, I had always had a fascination with Latin America, in particular Mexico. My aims for this trip were to gain valuable experience in language and in international development. I also wanted to immerse myself in a completely different culture. Before the trip, I was very excited but extremely nervous, as it was the first time I would be living by myself in a place 5,000 miles away from home.
My first impressions of Guadalajara
After a scary 14 hour flight from London Heathrow and many hours waiting in American airports, I finally arrived in the Miguel Hidalgo airport in Guadalajara. It was such a relief to see the smiling, friendly face of my Projects Abroad leader. I was taken to my host family’s home, driving in the dark I did not know what my surroundings were like. After a little sleep I awoke to a beautiful day (like most days in Mexico). My host family, were some of the nicest people I have ever met, so welcoming and always wanting to feed me and teach me about their culture.
My first impressions of the city were that of astonishment, I had never really left Europe before so the sights, smells and buildings were all new to me. I was given a tour of the city where I was intrigued by the beautiful Cathedrals and historical centre. One of the main differences for me was the buses. With not many official bus stops and no timetables, they were very hard to get used to, but with trial and error I learnt my way round them with ease.
Volunteering in Mexico
The food in Mexico deserves its own paragraph, having only had Americanised tex-mex food in England; I had similar expectations when travelling to Mexico. I was completely wrong, the food was some of most beautiful and exotic I have ever had. The fresh produce was fantastic with exotic fruits I had never even heard of before on offer every morning at the dining table. With meals lovingly cooked by my Mexican family I only occasionally went out for meals.
The social side of my time in Guadalajara was brilliant; I met many people from around the world including - Germany, Denmark, USA, Canada, Norway, Switzerland, Italy and Australia! It was very interesting to meet people from all over the world and to enjoy the local bars and restaurants in the vibrant area of Chapultapec. I went to various different museums, galleries and even music festivals with my new friends. The city offers so much culture with numerous museums and art galleries to explore and of course music including salsa and mariachi.
One of the main differences I observed in Mexico was the smiles on people’s faces, maybe it was the weather or maybe it was their great way of life who knows! It definitely made a change from the depressed faces of cold England! The whole way of life was new and interesting to me and I enjoyed it massively and it is true what they say that you do encounter culture shock, but I fell in love with the culture.
On the other hand, I saw much poverty and suffering, which is often not an image conjured up when thinking of Mexico but even as a growing economy Mexico still has harsh social problems which were very visible. Seeing this visible suffering made me keen to help in any way I could, in one of the volunteer dirty days the chance to help paint an orphanage was offered and I took to painting some of the kids rooms this proved to be a great success for the kids and they really appreciated the work we had done, this was also very rewarding for the volunteers.
International Development in Mexico
My placement was at the NGO ‘Guadalajara en bici’. I had become very familiar with city and already come to realise there was a great problem with public transport and bicycle safety. GDL en bici is an organisation that campaigns for better, safer and healthier mode of transport for the city which is of course cycling. With a population of over 4 million, Guadalajara has many problems with cars and traffic management. Through campaigning and fundraising and education, GDL en bici wants to encourage and promote cycling in the city.
I was working with a fellow volunteer from Denmark who guided me through what I was doing along with other GDL Mexican volunteers I helped to design the website, this was a great experience and at times proved very tricky. I also wrote a grant proposal searched for any funding they could be applicable for. This proved to be very interesting and really taught me more about international development. The cycling workshop and hostel I worked in was a very exciting, interesting place.
During my time in Mexico, I gained many important life experiences. Living by myself for the first time in a place where I had to learn the language made it very valuable. I gained language skills, web design skills, communication skills, research skills and also learnt much about the international development area, a career field I hope to one day be involved in.
I also met many people and discovered much about a country and culture, which I found to be a wonderful experience.
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