Volunteer Spotlight: Mathieu in Mexico
” The first time I heard about All Hands and Hearts was about five years ago. I was travelling through Australia and I met an Englishman who became my best friend. He had participated in an All Hands project in the Philippines. He was telling me about his experience and he told that I had to try it because it was totally in line with my personality: I’m always up to help people, I’m really social and used to live in a big community. I have been interested in this idea but I have never managed to find the time or save the money to get on a project.
More than going on project, I had the plan to travel in South America to learn Spanish. I got a visa for Chile and lived there for a year, working and travelling on my own. When my visa ran out, I went to Colombia to visit a bit before heading to project in Oaxaca Mexico! I had first planned on staying four weeks but I end up extending until the end of the program.
To be honest it’s hard. This experience has been physically challenging, the work can be very physical, the heat kills you, the wind can be very strong, we are sleeping on air mattresses every day, we are waking up very early every morning, the days are really long, but despite all that I think I have never been happier in my life.
First, because we are doing a wonderful thing: rebuilding schools for these wonderful kids feel good. It just feels good to help those in need. Second, we are around 70 volunteers sharing this experience and ideal of helping those in need, and it gives you back some hope for humanity. It shows you that there are still wonderful people on this planet, that care for others in such a wonderful way. Third, and probably the most important, is the way that this community realizes what you are doing for them, and how they give it back to you. They hug you, say, “thank you,” even the kids understand and they don’t lie, when they say thank you.
I don’t really want to leave; if I leave it’s because I don’t have the choice due to finances. But for the time I have left, I just want to continue giving it all I’ve got. I want all these kids to succeed in life, whatever goals they will have.
I think being a volunteer is not only about rebuilding that school, but it’s also being an example to inspire this community, and being inspired by them as well. When we go to pick up the trash a few times and just a few weeks later, the majority of the village joins you, it’s a win. When a kid at the same event tells you, “I want to have a pretty village,” it’s a win. When a kid tells you: “I want to go to school because the volunteers are working hard for me to have a beautiful school,” it’s a massive win.
Being a volunteer is so rewarding, not in a financial way, but in a way that not even the richest person on Earth could buy. I think there is only one thing very frustrating about being a volunteer: it is addictive, and despite all the goodwill you can have – all the energy you spend, you can never help everyone.
I think what people need is just a little bit of courage to sign up and leave everything behind to go and help. I’m not saying that it is easy, but I think people have to come and experience this in order to really know what it means to volunteer. I have been wanting to do this for a long time. When I leave, I will bring back a lot of memories, skills… But mainly I will leave as a better person sure of only one thing: this one was the first but surely not the last! “