I began volunteering 18 years ago, making art workshops for children in a shantytown called ‘Villa Soldati’. After a few months, I started assisting with homework too.
This way I also began understanding educational problems, as I discovered many aspects of living in a shantytown that were not good for the children who attended my workshops: parents without jobs, housing problems, teen pregnancy and nutrition problems.
After almost eight years of volunteering there, I thought about a way of creating a project that would allow me to have a deeper impact in the community (as I already felt I belonged there). I thought about starting an organization that promoted continued education and training in order to create greater equality, and could, ultimately, empower people to organize themselves, be more involved and creative in their community, to start participating in social activities looking for solutions, defending their rights.
So, after a lot of thinking, I decided to found Voluntario Global —in 2006— in partnership with people from the shantytown where I worked, developing programs for one of the community centers there, at first. After one year of work, we got stronger and more organized, so we decided it was time to start helping in other shantytowns nearby. We initially assisted in an after-school support project, and, gradually, we grew to other organizations (who contacted us for support).
Today we work with over 15 projects, including medical centers, cooperatives, kindergartens, orphanages, and we have created fixed volunteer opportunities so people from all over the world could come and help. We have a small structure, but we believe it is good enough to keep working close to the communities.
A few years after we started to expand our work, we were involved in organized activities with young people from the local areas. We then learned that, in shantytowns, 90% of young people cannot continue their education after High school due to financial instability. Instead, they are obliged to support their families and they get low-skilled jobs that require more than nine hours of labor per day. In order to attend this necessity, in 2008, Voluntario Global created the Laundry Project, a student-run cooperative that offers young men and women a safe work environment and an opportunity to keep studying at the same time. The Laundry Co-op is now —after 7 years— an established self-run cooperative.
Towards the end of 2014, we decided to create and build a new community based project, a place for the organizations and ourselves. We believe such space should be able to offer training and hands-on experience in the areas of sustainability and gardening, while opening up the floor for an exchanging of ideas on the topic for both volunteers and locals alike.
Indeed, the first seeds have now been sown for the community garden and the construction begun on the site that will provide the platform of the communitarian lifestyle of the volunteers that will live there and the people that will be able to use it. By the end of 2015, we hope to have completed the construction and have had our first volunteers take part in what will be a kind of educational program, although its structure is still to be finalized.
Today, I am focused on the development of our new community place in order to enforce sustainable development on a social and economic level and coordinating the relationships with each institution under Voluntario Global, in order to create cooperative culture and collaboration networks for local development. Besides that, I like to exchange and help foreign volunteers to ensure they feel and they are useful and happy, and they are having meaningful experiences. I think that the goal is to empower people to defend and fight for their rights, be creative looking for new ways to live and improve their lives.
Year 2016 marks the 10th Anniversary of Voluntario Global. Many goals have been achieved but there are still many other to complete, and we are completely sure that we need to keep on looking for tools and techniques to achieve a social transformation that implies to value a lifestyle that positions mankind in harmony with nature and itself. We believe that sustainable development is what drives our values and the way we work and I am positive that “A different world is possible”, a world with social justice and equal opportunities for everyone. We just need to build it together.
Written by Valeria Gracia – 2015