Some young people, to get a “challenging overseas trip”, go for a week to Bali. The more adventurous ones go to London. Our Guest Speaker Maggie Twyford, after 4 ½ years as a Junior Officer in the Australian Navy, decided she needed something a bit more outside the square. So she volunteered with Misión México, in Tapachula (population ~320,500), a border town close to Guatemala. The mission was founded in 2000 by Pam and Alan Skuse, a couple from the Sunshine Coast. Designed not to be an institution but a family home, Misión México caters for about 30 – 40 children and young adults on a permanent basis. Most of the children are orphaned or, in Maggie’s eloquently understated expression, “can’t be adopted”. The organisation includes a Community Outreach program, Education Scholarships, Life Skill Training, Work Training, English and swimming lessons. Plus ‘Misión Surf’ – yes, a surfing school. Their funding is entirely based on donations, which go directly to the organisation.

Just why would one choose Misión México? “They encourage long term volunteering and they are inexpensive compared to others (3000 Pesos, or about A$300) over 5 months, which includes accommodation and meals” Maggie explained. Further, the organisation doesn’t participate in the problematic industry of “Voluntourism”. Voluntourism? A modern term for ‘normalising’ access
to vulnerable children, emphasising a ‘saviour complex’, creating attachment disorders. Most importantly, Voluntourism takes the focus away from sustainable local development. In other words, the aim is that the community is not dependent on continued overseas funding and support to survive. Voluntourism also has a potential of children being exploited, since regular checks, as are normal in Western countries (e.g. Blue Card), don’t necessarily exist in developing regions. Thorough checking and testing is carried out to ensure the people who come to volunteer are indeed suitable to work with children. They also have a number of child protection policies in place.
 
The minimum period is for 8 weeks; Maggie stayed there for 5 months. “Volunteering is a little bit like Baby Sitting”, Maggie explained, “you wake them up, make breakfast, get them to school… … they come back from school, have dinner and you get them to bed.” [for those of you who had children, sounds familiar, doesn’t it? ☺ Ed]
 
Numerous programs are conducted with the children, even from a very young age on. Activities can also be quite physically demanding, such as climbing a volcano that is some 13,600 feet (over 4,000 metres) high… “It was to get the girls out of their comfort zone…” Maggie elaborated. Yeah right! I’d say most people would be out of their comfort zone!
 
So, what are the challenges from the volunteer’s point of view? Well, in addition to the obvious cultural differences, there are no ‘Western Privileges’ (think no “safe” water, not to mention air conditioning). No safe water? Well, here is a project for one of the 32,000 enterprising Rotary Clubs on the globe!  But the major challenge is the experience of working with children who have experienced trauma. And of course, there is the language: how quickly can you learn Spanish..?
 
I keep coming back to one of my pet expressions: don’t get me started talking about “today’s youth”. The example Maggie has set proves that youthful enterprise and community service is alive and well!