Humbling and rewarding: volunteering with Jesuit Missions
Jesuit Missions – in partnership with Progressio ICS – offers a range of volunteering opportunities for young people who want to work in programmes (many of them Jesuit-led) in various parts of the world. Cecily, for instance, joined local teenage volunteers in Honduras to complete the opening of a cafe in the community; while Hugh, as part of his gap year, travelled to Dodoma, Tanzania, where he volunteered at Saint Ignatius Primary School.
One of the most recent JM volunteers to return to the UK is Hattie, who worked on a summer programme teaching in Kyrgyzstan. She described the three weeks she spent there as “some of the most fascinating, humbling and rewarding of our lives”. She was one of several volunteers working at Caritas NGO Meerim Nuru (‘Light of Love’), whose primary function is to be a rehabilitation centre for disabled children and young adults.
“With the lake and beach a one-minute walk away, and the snow-capped mountains surrounding it … it really couldn’t have been built on a more perfect spot,” recalls Hattie. “However, one thing that we noticed was how little equipment and medical treatment was available to them. I found this to be very humbling and put into perspective the free access to healthcare which we take for granted in our country.”
Gaining more than the volunteers give
The volunteers’ main role was to teach and Hattie says the lack of a rigid syllabus gave them free rein to tailor the lessons to interest the children. “I taught the highest level group and so was able to get some very interesting debates going among them, as their level of English was very high,” she wrote on her return. “I was particularly impressed by the awareness and informed opinions that the teenagers had of the problems that exist in their own country, such as corruption within the government and in education.”
Hattie’s hosts in Kyrgyzstan were Fr Remy, the director of Meerim Nuru, and Fr Leszek, who warmly welcomed the volunteers “to the oasis of seemingly endless mountains and farmland that would be our home for the month” – to the south of Lake Issyk-Kul, the second largest alpine lake in the world. And volunteering through Jesuit Missions does not simply involve work – as Hattie discovered: “We were lucky enough to get to go on a series of ‘school trips’, which were like no school trip I’ve ever been on in England! It would be difficult to match the incredible mountain walks or running around a ‘Fairy-tale Canyon’ that we got to do in Kyrgyzstan.”
Although she has since left Jesuit Missions, their Volunteers Coordinator at the time, Clara Sheaf, told Hattie and the other young adults embarking on the experience that they would probably find that they took more from it than they gave to the children and Hattie says that was certainly true. “For anyone who is considering taking part in this particular Jesuit Mission or one similar, I will say that it really was the most brilliant and informative experience. For the people you meet and the things you learn, I couldn’t recommend it more.”
To read more about Hattie’s experience in Kyrgyzstan, visit the Jesuit Missions website, where you will also find more accounts by volunteers and details of how to apply for long- and short-term placements.