1. Why did you choose to take a gap year like this?
I don’t see my decision to volunteer in South America as a “gap year”, or even a career break; it’s more like the start of my journey to find a new, more fulfilling career/vocation.
After five years in the same job with little prospect of change, I decided that I wanted to do something about it. As a financial services contractor and quality assessor, I often spent my days sweating over small details that just didn’t seem to matter.
The spark I needed was provided by the website, and microfinance lending platform, www.kiva.org, which I stumbled across a couple of years ago. It opened my eyes to microfinance, which is a growing industry that provides financial services for people that would otherwise not have access to them (often, but not always, in developing countries). Charity is obviously a wonderful thing, but there’s something even more rewarding about helping people help themselves in a sustainable way.
I thought about applying to join the industry as a Kiva fellow, but I wasn’t sure what I had to offer to succeed in such a competitive application process. So volunteering for me is about gaining experience, trying different things, getting out of my comfort zone and learning about myself, whilst at the same time doing something extremely rewarding.
2. What was that drew you to this particular option?
I initially contacted Kaya to find out more about a microfinance project they are involved with in Cusco, Peru. It seemed ideal, given my interest in that field – apart from the fact I can’t speak Spanish! So Kaya suggested working on a football coaching project in La Paz first (with Spanish lessons) and I started in July.
3. How have you found it?
Well I haven’t done any football coaching, but my four weeks so far have been an amazing experience. I’m actually based 45 minutes outside La Paz, in a small town called Jupapina. I’ve been spending three mornings a week in a local nursery, three afternoons a week in a local children’s home (where vulnerable children stay for up to three months) and another three sessions a week at an equine therapy centre that helps children with disabilities.
At times, I’ve been taken back to my childhood – doing arts and crafts in the classroom or playing in the playground – and others have been particularly moving – such as the group sessions with parents at the equine therapy centre.
The children I’ve had the pleasure of working with have already made a lasting impression and reinforced what I already knew – that everyone is the same the world over, even if some find themselves in difficult situations where they may lack opportunity and resources.
4. Would you say to others to inspire them to follow your foot steps?
Social media seems like it’s full of inspirational quotes that don’t seem to apply to real life, but simply put: I found myself in a situation that I wanted to change, with no good reasons not to. If that sounds like you, then go for it.