If you’re looking for a volunteer abroad experience that is fun, educational, and well-rounded look no further than VE Global. Founded in 2006 as Voluntarios de la Esperanza, VE Global (VE) has evolved from three volunteers working in a Santiago orphanage to a network of volunteer stationed in Santiago’s poorest neighborhoods and working with the Chile’s at-risk youth.
What do volunteers do?
VE Global volunteers are placed in orphanages, community centers and schools around Santiago to provide support for the children living in the often under-staffed institutions. Most volunteers provide after-school tutoring, help prepare meals and run VE Global-sponsored activities like art festivals and soccer leagues.
Volunteers in the program are encouraged to propose programs that might benefit their institution, and VE Global will provide funding a support to make to programs happen. This might be teaching yoga classes to a group of teenagers or doing a long-term photography project. VE has established long-term relationships with the institutions where the volunteers work, which can make the volunteer feel truly embedded in the day to day lives of the children they work with.
There are also a number of administrative volunteers working in the VE central office on fundraising, community relations and project development. These volunteers (some paid staff) provide ongoing volunteer support and keep things running administratively. Most administrative volunteers also work part-time in on of the institutions as well.
When does the program accept new volunteers?
Volunteers are accepted on a class schedule three times per year, to ensure that each institution has a stead stream of volunteer support. Applications are currently being accepted for the May class, and there are also application deadlines in September and January. VE Global is a small, locally-based organization that is run primarily by former volunteers and some local Chileans interested in the orphanage system, and each volunteer class typically consists of 8-12 volunteers from around the globe.
How long is a volunteer stay?
Volunteers for VE Global are required to stay for at least four months, but are encouraged to stay for 6 months of more to strengthen the experience. Most find that four months isn’t really enough time to do more than simply get comfortable speaking in Spanish and learning local customs, and many volunteers extend their stay. Administrative volunteers typically volunteer for at least one year. There are also some opportunities for consultant volunteers and some short-term group projects, which you can read more about on the VE website.
Who can volunteer?
Anyone over the age of 18 can volunteer with VE Global, and the organization is always looking for people with some work experience to help with project and organizational development. Volunteers have come to Chile ranging in age from 18-62, and most are in their mid-20s. While it is helpful to know Spanish, it is not a pre-requisite to joining the program. However, they do ask that volunteers commit to some language study either before they arrive, or once they are living in Santiago. Volunteers must speak either English or Spanish at an intermediate level to volunteer.
It’s important to note that VE, unlike many volunteer abroad programs, is not designed to be a language learning experience. Volunteers are embedded in orphanages and community centers fairly early, large portions of the orientation experience are in Spanish and it can be overwhelming to have no knowledge of the language when you try to start working. However, those with a lot of patience and an open mind will find that they pick up the "chileno" version of Spanish fairly quickly once you are in-country for a few months.
How much does it cost?
VE is 100% free for volunteers. That means that volunteers are responsible for their own international airfare (although someone will pick you up at the airport), room and board (although the organization maintains volunteer apartments that are centrally located and fairly inexpensive), health insurance and other expenses. The in-country and administrative support provided by VE – which includes placement, orientation, all-volunteer events, and ongoing training and general support – are paid for through donations to the organization from friends, family, foundations and corporations.
The VE Experience
Here’s the full disclosure: when I volunteered abroad it was with VE Global, back when they were still Voluntarios de la Esperanza. I left to volunteer for 6 months and ended up staying for almost two years, and still remain very involved in the organization from the U.S. VE has grown in leaps and bounds since then, with more procedures in place, a strong network of institutions to host volunteers, and a larger full-time staff to offer constant support to the volunteers, children and staff of the institutions. The organization is very much a hybrid of Western values and Chilean culture, and the time that I spent in Santiago was some of the best of my life.
I worked with children with special needs at a small school in southern Santiago, where I helped the teacher with daily tasks, and eventually started a read-aloud program for the children. It was challenging work, and a crash course in Chilean culture. I didn’t know that everyone drinks tea mid-morning, or that if you are cold you should eat bread, or that children don’t come to school if it rains. Since I was the only volunteer at the school during the day, I had to figure a lot of things out on my own. Those things that I didn’t quite figure out, I would ask when I got home to the volunteer house.
I stayed on with VE because I had a specific skill set that they needed – that is, I knew how to write grants and get resources. So when the time came for my 6 months to come to a close, I new I couldn’t leave. That’s often the case with volunteering abroad – you may not realize how quickly three months or 6 months goes by until you are more than halfway through your stay.
You can find out more about VE Global by checking out their website, which also contains application instructions, volunteer testimonials and some FAQs for potential volunteers. There are still a few spots left in the May class, so you can apply now and live your volunteer abroad dream in just under a month!