“I’m about to quit my job and move to Brazil in 6 weeks to volunteer for 3 months.”
That’s how I started the conversation with my parents, 4 days before my 30th birthday. They were astonished. In fact, they looked at me as if I’d just lost my mind.
I had a good job and I was about to turn 30. What on earth could make me decide to leave everything – my job, an apartment, a paycheck, security – to put on a backpack and fly to a country where I didn’t even speak the language?
I managed to convince close family and friends that I wasn’t totally crazy. Coming from Mexico, where many families are quite conservative, this was no small feat. For many Mexican women, there are lots of expectations based solely on your age and gender. I was a non-married woman, 4 days before turning 30, and I was about to work for free in a faraway country!
Luckily, I didn’t receive any negative comments – mostly confused looks, and even a few compliments.
Some friends told me that they thought I was brave, and that my plan sounded wonderful. They said things like: “Wow”, are you going to live in Brazil? The beaches are beautiful there, aren’t they?” Most of my friends told me they wished they could do the same.
To be honest, I’ve thought a lot about the reasons we don’t follow our dreams. I believe that often, we get so deep into our everyday routine, trying to comply with the expectations of our society, that we find any excuse not to pursue what we really want.
I found myself pushing off something that I really wanted to do, because I was busy and afraid to stop and get behind. But, behind who or behind what? Who was I racing with? Now I’ve realized that this non-stop lifestyle is what we should be afraid of, because it could lead us to miss out what is truly important, and the real beauty of life.
Still, I was nervous
Even though I was receiving positive feedback and support from my family and friends, I was still a bit concerned. I always thought that volunteering was for students who just graduated from high school or college. I finished college nine years ago and was way past that stage in my life. I asked myself how I was going to get along with younger volunteers with different interests and priorities.
I soon learned that I couldn’t be more wrong! Everyone there the same interest and priority – to help make a difference.
I also learned that age is the worst measure for maturity. I met some 23 years old volunteers with more commitment and productivity than many people that I’ve worked with in previous jobs. Of course, they were more into experiencing Brazil in different ways than me, but we all loved and respected the community.
Working with other volunteers
I learned from them every single day, and I appreciated the passion and effort that some of the other volunteers put into their work. You don’t need to live for 50 years to acknowledge the importance of preserving life, and realizing the importance of taking care of one another.
I was surrounded by people with extraordinary hearts and extraordinary lives, almost all of them younger than 23.
As with any other communal environment, there were issues that we had to deal with. Dishes were a common issue.
Many of the other volunteers also liked music that I stopped appreciating a long ago, and they enjoyed night life a lot more than I did. In the end, however, it wasn’t the age difference that created the gap, but the mindset that so many of us have, where we try to avoid everything that’s different to us. We place way too much importance on the differences between us. As soon as we are able to focus on the the things we have in common, the easier it is to accept, and even welcome, our differences.
Something I learned
As always, time went too fast and I’ve already moved onto my next stage in life. As I was taking the flight back from Brazil, I thought about all the things I learned there. I could make a huge list, but the most important thing that I learned is the one I want to share:
The best age for someone to volunteer is whatever age you are, as long as that is what your heart desires. As soon as we let go of societal pressures and fake excuses, the perfect time comes around. The day we let go of our comfort zones and jump into the uncertainty of life, this is when we can welcome the sensation of uncertainty as a something positive rather than something that creates anxiety!
Volunteering at ETIV in Brazil
There were three main reasons that I decided to volunteer with ETIV in Brazil:
- I wanted to do something with meaning
- I wanted to learn Portuguese and explore Brazil
- After reading about ETIV and the work they do for the local community, I really felt like this was the right organization for me.
During my time there as a volunteer, I worked as the Marketing and Recruitment Coordinator in ETIV.
However, I did help with other things, such as:
- Assisting the English teacher
- Volunteering in a swimming project we had in collaboration with SwimTayka
- Assisting with finances since that is part of my expertise
I also loved the town of Itacaré, which is located in the coast of Bahia state. It’s also known as the cacao coast, so there’s another reason I liked it so much.
Remote Volunteering for ETIV
I loved volunteering with ETIV so much that I decided to continue volunteering with them remotely as the Regional Outreach Coordinator.
With gratitude to: My lovely family who has always support me and to Robert Bracco, my best friend who has taught me how to stop, breathe and appreciate everything around me.
Do you have questions for Eva Melissa? Contact her here, and she’ll do her best to answer them!