Volunteer Interest Stories

Volunteer Interest Stories

Volunteer Interest Stories

Screen Shot 2018-10-02 at 23.32.31.png

The Journey of a Soccer Ball Shaped Heart

by Nina Fader

When I was in 10th grade, I realised I wanted to study public service fields in order to provide every child the opportunity to play soccer and have the equipment they need. This was sparked when I saw vast poverty for the first time on my first out of the country experience to Nicaragua in 2009. So by 2014, the choice of which study abroad program I would go on came down to which one allowed me the best opportunity to see an organisation provide for those who are without. Traveling by trains around Europe or walking the beaches of Australia were enticing, but I decided to travel to a third world country in Africa. CIEE Iringa Tanzania Fall Semester had three components: study, research, and volunteer.

At the first moment to shop after landing, I bought a soccer ball from the mall. To me a soccer ball is like a security blanket. Seeing one, fiddling with one, and knowing the possibility of a game with one laying around gives me comfort and hope. The bright yellow ball traveled with me on the bus 13 hours through the mountains inland to the medium-sized city of Iringa where the university was for us to live and study at for the next few months. The university was up a hill at the edge of the city, so to get to restaurants and stores we took the dala-dala (a 15 passenger van used for public transit) for only 25 cents a ride. Every day on this ride we would pass a large undeveloped dirt lot behind a school where children were frequently playing at like a park. To clear our brains midway through the semester three of us ladies decided to walk down the street to the park and have an impromptu game day with as many kids as we could rally. My secret weapon: carrying the magnetic soccer ball. Kids started following me, yelling “Muzungu.” We provided free child care for a handful of hours while we played soccer, taught them patty cake, twirled around, and had fun with the camera. This joy-filled afternoon, we volunteered when we didn’t have to volunteer.

In the rural village of Mufindi some weeks later, our program formally partnered with Foxes NGO to volunteer for two weeks at the AIDS Orphanage Village. Our projects varied from education to labor to dispersing food. The NGO was not very organised and didn’t utilise us for as many hours of the day as I thought they would. I also had much less choice in the volunteering activity than was told to me before. Feeling a little disappointed and unclear of my purpose, I began counting down the days until departure and planning something exciting. I gave the ball away in the village. How typical for a Westerner to leave behind possessions as an act of good deeds and sacrifice as a response to all they have witnessed. But to make myself not feel like such a cliche, I picked the boy who I had observed to be a strong leader to be the new guardian of the ball and made him agree to share with his friends.

This story and many other details around it lead me to get a master’s degree so I could write a thesis on how soccer is not just a sport, but there is emotion, hope, and community balled up together. My heart grew for my passion over the years since it took root and there is a special place in my soccer ball shaped heart for Tanzania. If given the chance I would return to Tanzania and feel very familiar with the city of Iringa. I actually applied to lead high school students working with a women’s soccer program in the same city and was not selected. I do hope to take another volunteer trip soon. I have a couple teaching soccer in mind. And one would be to a very random country. I’ll leave that mystery hanging.

Council on International Education Exchange

300 Fore St. Portland, ME 04101

Phone: 207-553-4000

Justin Beckam – resident director – justin.beckham@gmail.com




Rwandan Kindness

by Taylor Kilcup

Friday. It was the last day my small band of Rwandan women and I had to be with the villagers we had spent the previous week with. The local community (church) was hosting an important celebration (baptism) that day for whoever wanted to attend. We were traveling around the rural neighborhood inviting the new friends we had made to the celebration. We came to the home of a family whose mom was busy taking care of her young children. Upon hearing our invitation to the event, she agreed to come with one of her oldest sons. Another boy was there who we knew. In previous conversations with him, we had learned that he was an orphan who took care of cattle for a living. He said he wanted to come but he lacked the appropriate clothing. Although we tried to solve the problem with him, he was resolute about not going unless he was fully prepared. We said we understood and continued visiting the other villagers.

At the event, amidst the singing and dancing of the celebration, I looked for the mom and her son who had said they would attend. After enjoying a couple Rwandan-style songs and dances, I saw the sweet mom enter the building with her son. To my surprise and delight, behind them came the boy who had said he wasn’t able to come. I later found out that the mom had found the boy some extra clothes so he could come. During the event, both boys made significant commitments in front of their community and were graciously embraced by the community.

This simple act of kindness touched my heart. I was struck by the mom’s willingness to not only shift her already full and stressful schedule of taking care of her children and animals at a moment’s notice. Not only was she willing to sacrifice her time (probably at least three hours), but she was ready to take care of her son’s friend who was in need of a little help. As I pondered this experience, I wondered, how often am I willing to sacrifice my plans for something possibly more valuable? How often am I willing to lend a helping hand to someone with good desires but lacking some material thing that I could offer? As I returned to the United States, I have a greater awareness, and I hope willingness to engage in, the privileges available to me to help others.

Provided time and opportunity allow it, I would be honored to return to Rwanda, or another country where I can somewhat immerse myself in a different culture. I have a feeling the more time I spend with Rwandans, the more “others” focused, and less “me” focused I will tend to be. I may care a little more about the wellbeing of those around me than protecting my own perceived sense of security. I may find a little more value in understanding and engaging in other people’s life journeys than getting wrapped up in my own little problems. Perhaps I will learn a little better how to find happiness in others’ victories.


Getting Comfortable With The Uncomfortable

by Jstyn Strain

In June of this year (2018) my sister and I decided to do something we had never done before – we signed up to go on a 100% volunteer trip to Jamaica for a week. Going into the trip, neither one of us really had much of an idea about what to expect. This trip was a religious trip, though my sister and I are not very religious. We knew it would get us out of our comfort zones religiously as well as socially by making us interact with people we would never work with otherwise. What we discovered when we got there we could never have expected.

We went into the trip with very low expectations. Not that we did not think we would enjoy it, we just literally did not know what to expect, which was nerve racking yet exciting. We were expected to live as the Brothers and Sisters lived in their hostels. This meant prayer at 5:30 AM, noon, 9 PM, as well as silence for an hour a day and late night discussions. We also were without AC, hot water, wifi, and other common luxuries that most Americans have. Our meals were rice and some kind of meat every day, with bread and jelly as snacks. And being in the hostel ended up being the part of the trip we were most comfortable with.

Working in the shelters was the challenging part. Instead of the normal building shelters and handing out food, we were asked to do a lot more hands on work with the residents of the shelters. The residents living here were people who lived with severe mental and physical disabilities. Without the help of the Brothers and Sisters who have dedicated their lives to serving others, as well as the relatively small amount of volunteers, these people would quite literally be left of the streets to die. We as volunteers were expected to do anything the residents would need help with. This included clipping nails, playing with the kids, helping stretch residents with severe muscular disabilities, feeding, and even bathing residents.

I will admit day one in the shelters was scary. I had no clue how to go about feeding another person and how to talk to the residents with different mental disabilities who are unable to respond. It was challenging. I kept thinking about what it was like to be them and how hard their lives are in comparison to mine.

It took me a while to become comfortable with the trip, but after that initial 48 hours I was in full gear and very excited for anything that came my way. I started enjoying feeding the residents and interacting with them. Though many were able to have lengthy conversations, learning how to communicate through touch and see them light up as we painted their nails was extremely rewarding. I learned a lot about the power of loving others in need and understanding what they have to go through. What shocked me the most was how happy all these residents were. Even though many were disabled in some fashion, nearly all of them were always so happy to see us and so excited for us to spend the day with them.

The trip as a whole taught me a lot. It showed me that the simple things in life are the things that are truly important and that living this way will often make you a happier person. It also taught me to live disciplined and not take things for granted and to understand that what I have is a gift not a right. I’m a big believer in getting out of your comfort zone to grow as a person and because of this I would definitely do this trip again and I plan to do many more eye opening volunteer trips like this one.

Hosted By: Missionaries of the Poor



Readers, volunteer interest stories are regularly updated, so check back often!

Learn More