While the world has seemed to be at a bit of a standstill due to COVID-19, while many international travelers returned home, there are a few Lattitude volunteers who remained abroad and continued to contribute valuable service as international volunteers. The result has been unique experiences, much different than what was expected. We are very impressed with the resilience and thoughtfulness of these volunteers who carved a new path for themselves overseas with the support of their hosts and Lattitude, during an unprecedented time of challenge and uncertainty.
You may have read our most recent blog post from the perspective of our hosts at Tockington Manor in the UK, where two volunteers, Alegria from Ecuador, and Abby from New Zealand, have remained in place despite many other international travelers going home.
Here is part 2 of the story – from the perspective of the two volunteers. They have most certainly made the most of their experiences and have contributed to important work supporting children of key workers in the UK.
Abby – An Unpredictable & Life-Changing Year So Far
When I boarded my flight on the 3rd of January in Wellington, New Zealand to leave for my exciting gap year in England, I don’t think I could have ever imagined the craziness of the events that would unfold this year. And although it may not have been what I expected, this has made this year truly unforgettable.
For the first few months at Tockington, Ale (my Ecuadorian roommate) and I lived a very routine day to day life at the school, and we absolutely loved it! A typical day in the life would involve us waking up at around 7, waking up the boarders and then heading downstairs to breakfast. After helping to coordinate breakfast, we would have registration, and the rest of the day followed with helping out in classes, games lessons, cross country, sports matches, supervising prep, and of course our favourite- laundry. We were always busy, surrounded by people and truly couldn’t have been happier.
But then March arrived and with March came COVID-19. Initially, we didn’t realise the severity of the situation. But as time passed, case numbers rose and, subsequently, concerns arose. Before long there was talk of schools closing and obviously, we became worried. I had three friends from high school who were doing the exact same thing as me, working in schools around the UK. When all three of them decided to return to NZ, as well as the majority of other Kiwis who I arrived with, I was left completely lost at what to do. Ecuador had closed its borders, so my placement partner Ale had no choice whether to stay or not. After a lot of contemplation, I decided I would also stay at the placement. I haven’t looked back on that decision once.
We have the most amazing support network of people living on-site who have been truly incredible in making our lockdown experience as positive as possible. They really are like a family and I cannot thank them enough. Our mentor Pablo has been particularly supportive, giving us cooking lessons, taking us cycling around the neighbouring countryside, inviting us over for meals and generally being a great person of support. As well as my host, Lattitude has also provided a steady stream of support since this whole thing began, consistently in contact and checking in with me. There was not one step along the way where I felt alone in my decision-making. Of course, I am also in regular contact with everyone back home, friends and family, who all trust my decision to stay and know I am in good hands.
Fortunately, we have been able to keep busy during these times looking after the key worker children. For the last 6-ish weeks we have spent every day from 7:40am to 2pm with a handful of children, coordinating their online lessons. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience and although our role as a volunteer has taken a drastic turn, and we may not be in ‘normal school,’ it is very fulfilling to be able to have a ‘key worker’ role during these uncertain times and work one to one with the children. We have an age range of nursery to year 8 and so not only have we had to adapt to a new role, but also adapt our skills with different age groups. It has been a change for sure, but we love it and having responsibility of these kids and their schoolwork is extremely gratifying.
Despite my gap year only being halfway through, I know this will be one of the most significant times I will live through and it has taught me a lot. At first, it was quite daunting– being on the complete other side of the world away from all my family and friends in the midst of a global pandemic. And school is certainly a very different environment when there are no children playing or chattering. I must admit the first few weeks were difficult and the change was challenging to come to terms with. However, we have remained positive and have made the most of everything.
Thankfully Ale and I are very close, and this whole experience has undoubtedly made that friendship grow stronger. Like I mentioned, we have a great support network, both at our placement, and Lattitude. We’ve been able to keep busy still working, and luckily have been blessed with amazing weather and spend a lot of time outside walking, cycling, running; we even bought roller skates!
Life is unpredictable, but my advice to anyone considering taking a gap year and stepping out of their comfort zone, is to just do it! I have grown so much in the past 6 months and although things may have not gone to plan, this has been the best decision of my life and I thoroughly look forward to the next 6 months here! 🙂
Alegria – Building Friendships & Family Away From Home
We began our placement on January 6. At the time, our roles in the school included things like waking up the boarders, helping with organizing breakfast, registration in the mornings, assisting on different lessons ( we mainly work with the year 3), and helping in games. I helped once a week in swimming lessons which was really fun. Some days we did registration before supper just to make sure all the kids that sign in for it were there, and our last activity of the day was to spend a couple of hours with the boarders before they go to sleep which was the best thing and where we get to know the kids better.
When the COVID-19 situation started, we were worried mainly because the information about the virus was not really clear and the numbers of cases increased. Initially we were told that the school was probably closing and so it was, it was sad to say goodbye to the kids and it was weird to stop suddenly with our daily routines.
Returning back home was never an option for me as the borders to Ecuador were closed. Even if I wished I could not get into Ecuador, I wasn’t convinced I wanted to travel and put myself at risk to catch the virus. I felt really safe here in Tockington, and so I stayed.
The support that Abby and I have been receiving here has been amazing. Pablo is always watching over us and we have built an amazing friendship with him and all the people here, I can speak for both of us and say that we feel like home. And with thanks to them, we are enjoying this experience. I have been in touch with Lattitude too and they have provided us valuable information. I’m in touch with family and friends daily too which is really good.
We are so grateful that we are still working with the key workers’ kids. Personally, working with them has helped me with my English and my confidence. We make sure all the kids do their online lessons and activities, we help them on their school tasks, and we send all their work to their respective teachers. We feel really proud of ourselves because it’s a really important job and we are happy to help during this situation.
It has been a challenge, being away from home, and especially having that uncertainty of what’s happening tomorrow. But in spite of everything, Abby and I remain positive and happy to be here together. We’ve become really close friends and it’s good to have the support of each other.
My advice to future volunteers would be not to fear the unknown. Since I was little, my dream was always to travel, to discover new places, fill me with different cultures, get to know new people, and to experience something far away from what I’m used to. When I was told I had a place to volunteer in England, I was so happy and excited but also really scared and nervous. I was going to live a whole year in a place really far away from home, with a different language, leaving all my friends and family behind. But the feeling of having this experience and finding myself during this whole year was so strong. And that weight was a lot more than my fear. I did it, and it has been the best decision I could have made. My volunteering year is not over yet and I already feel I’ve grown up in so many aspects and accomplished a lot of the things I wanted to achieve.
If you are thinking of volunteering abroad, you should know that you will face hard times, and you will need to get used to a new place, people and routines. But it is so worth it and is such an enriching experience!
Click here to read part 1 of this story, from the perspective of the host at Tockington Manor.
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