Volunteering: The Beginning of a New Chapter
Updated: Jun 3
Hear from Rachel Disbrow, former UPAVIM volunteer and the current UPAVIM Volunteer Coordinator and Board Member as she reflects on her time volunteering with UPAVIM in Guatemala and the impact it had on her life.
"I really fell in love with Guatemala because of the wonderful experiences at Upavim... It really started a whole new chapter of my life and I'm so grateful for the experience." -Rachel Disbrow, Volunteer Coordinator for UPAVIM
When did you volunteer with UPAVIM? What did you do as a volunteer?
I volunteered first from January to November 2013 and then again for a few months in 2019 when I was between jobs. I worked both times in the after school program doing classes for 5 year olds and reinforcement classes for elementary school students.
Why did you decide to volunteer/how did you find out about UPAVIM?
I was looking to volunteer somewhere long-term that had a stipend and or housing. I saw a post on Idealist.org and although I was worried about being in Guatemala City, I thought that volunteer locations should be chosen just based on feeling "comfortable," so I took a chance.
What was your favorite part of the experience?
My most favorite moment was when I was working with one of the "prepa" students who was 5 years old. She was so bright and eager to learn. Coming to the morning classes for an hour and a half gave her an opportunity to receive early childhood education that she may not have received otherwise. We were practicing reading the syllables in Spanish and then starting to form words and short sentences.
She read a simple sentence and then turned to me with these bright eyes and said, "I'm reading, Miss! I'm reading!"
Afterwards, I was able to sponsor a scholarship for her through UPAVIM,along with a few others, and she continues to excel in her studies. It makes me so proud to feel that I was able to help her get a leg up with her education.
I had tons of fun with the kids---going to the Zoo, doing a parade for Independence Day, Friday afternoons doing yoga, kickboxing, playing games, and creating this little bubble of learning and support within the after school program.
What was the most challenging part of the experience?
It was difficult to see kids and families who were struggling, and wanting to help, but knowing there was only so much one can do. The issues could be so big, it felt like my impact was too small. However, when students understood new concepts and this had a positive change on their grades, it did give me hope that even a small impact could have a larger one eventually.
How did this experience impact you personally?
I really fell in love with Guatemala because of the wonderful experiences at Upavim and in La Esperanza. I decided to pursue a master's in education partly because of the experience, and then was able to come back after, and haven't been able to leave! It really started a whole new chapter of my life and I'm so grateful for the experience.
What made you decide to join the UCDF Board and continue volunteering your time to UPAVIM?
Although I've been living and working in Guatemala since volunteering, I haven't been able to visit or contribute as much as I had hoped. When I got a job in the city last year, I saw they were looking for a volunteer coordinator and I thought it would be a great way to be able to support Upavim without having to physically be there all the time.
What advice would you give to future volunteers?
Be open to all the new experiences that volunteering can offer and let yourself be changed by the experience.