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The Joy of Volunteering

People say that nothing compares to the rewards of volunteering in the countries that need it most. Here Pilar Martín, a FISC volunteer, tells us about her own experience in Nueva Vida, Nicaragua.

My name is Pilar Martín Casalderrey, but people call me Pilaja. I am a 62-year-old retired public school teacher and I volunteer for FISC: I work with the NGO REDES DE SOLIDARIDAD (‘Networks of Solidarity’) in Nicaragua. (Link).

The headquarters of Redes is in Sandino City, an hour-long bus ride from Managua. Sandino is a very young city, home to a neighbourhood called Nueva Vida, where Redes works with a marginalised population living in extreme poverty.

To celebrate my retirement in 2011, I decided to complete a year-long volunteer experience, which began in 2012.

My responsibilities that year included working with the school run by Redes de Solidaridad by assisting and advising them in implementing changes that the institution had seen a need for. I also worked as a seventh grade teacher (the seventh grade is comparable to year 1 of secondary school in the Spanish school system) at San Francisco Xavier School, run by the Company of Mary Our Lady in Sandino City.

The experience was very rewarding. As you might expect, I experienced many different things: there were enjoyable moments, challenging ones, unpleasant moments, lonely ones, moments full of laughter, of hard work, of happiness . . . and above all, there were moments of discovery—I learned so much about myself, about others, about what’s happening around us and about a world I had never experienced before, one that has captured my heart.

Barrio Sandino Nicaragua

Barrio Sandino Nicaragua

As a volunteer I saw real poverty with my own eyes; I saw it in my fellow teachers, which had a great impact on me. I lived with fewer possessions and comforts than I had in Spain, but I had so much compared to the people around me, and that makes me feel lucky and very thankful for the life I have been given.

Sometimes it was—and is—hard for me to understand, accept and adapt to the local lifestyle and pace of life and work  . . . and I find myself making the mistake of thinking that my way of doing things is better, more efficient, but then I remind myself that I’m here to share and learn and live.

During my time as a volunteer I have come into contact with many people whose world views are different from mine; meeting them helped me grow, to learn to live life to the fullest. Some of them are now a big part of my life.

I returned to Spain in 2013, but eight months later I decided to return to the country, to the people, that I hold so dear to my heart. I’m happy; I’ve found my path for this new stage of my life, one that gives me the opportunity to take risks, to live new and different experiences. I’ve discovered that this is I want to do with my sixties.

I plan to continue in 2014, but of course you never know what the future has in store for you. In the words of Virgil, sic volvere Parcas: so spin the Fates.