Betsy Aviles - 2016 Program Participant

Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala
Pacaya Volcano

What inspired you to go abroad?

I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel to other countries. Since I can remember, I have always been a cultural enthusiast. I love traveling! I love embracing other cultures, I love learning about it. For years it has always been a dream to volunteer abroad. Well in 2016, that dream came true. I did it. I volunteered for the very first time in another country. And I travelled solo too. Yes, solo for the first time.

Why did you choose IVHQ?

I did not give it much thought. I knew right away I wanted to volunteer in the childcare program. I chose this program because children are the future. We as adults need to shape our world to become a better place. A safer place for our children.

What was your favorite part about Antigua?

I am not good with favorites. There are too many favorites just to name one! I truly enjoyed the beauty of Antigua. From the women walking down the street in traditional garments to the architecture. Antigua is truly a beautiful city, rich in culture.

What made your experience abroad unique? 

I would say the homestay made my experience unique. Although my time there was limited, I was able to immerse myself in the Guatemalan culture by living with locals. This is unlike any experience you will have staying at a resort or hotel. I can say I lived with the locals, and didn’t just visit!

Cerro De La Cruz in Antigua, Guatemala
Cerro De La Cruz

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

When I arrived at the Guatemala City airport, I thought I would be the only volunteer. The thought of it made me a bit nervous. I was wrong! I was greeted by other volunteers and members of the staff from Maximo Nivel. I felt relieved. Any anxieties I had, were left at the airport. Although, I came alone I never once felt alone. The staff were very informative and helpful. They helped make this first time experience a pleasant one.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently? 

I wish I would have stayed much longer. Unfortunately, I was only able to stay for one week. There was so much more I wanted to see and do!

Describe a typical day in the life of your program. 

I was assigned to an orphanage outside of Antigua. This orphanage is the home for 400 abused and abandoned children. Myself and two other volunteers were assigned to the "Los Angelitos" housing. The children there range from a few months to 4 years old. We were expected to arrive at our placements at eight in the morning. While at our placements we expected to interact with the children. We would interact through games and song. We would also help bottle feed and rock the children to sleep.

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

During my free time, I enjoyed exploring the cobblestone streets of Antigua. Antigua is filled with charm. Vibrant colors, colonial church ruins, the breathtaking view at Cerro De La Cruz. Antigua is definitely a sight to see! I booked a guided tour to Guatemala City to visit Pacaya Volcano. Let's just say this is another highlight!

Guatemalan woman selling souvenirs
Guatemalan vendor at the doors of a church

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

This was a different experience for me. A first time staying with a host family. Honestly, the first day I was uncomfortable (what am I doing here? Who are these people? MOM!). But after the first day I was at ease. The home was lovely: well-kept and clean. I had my own bedroom with a bathroom inside. And yes there was wifi! And I must mention the host always made us delicious meals. He prepared not only Guatemalan meals but international dishes as well. The best part about the family stay was staying with the three other volunteers. It is great to meet other like minded individuals. I came solo, but left with new friendships. This is the perfect opportunity for introverts to come out of their shell.

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

I think the one thing every participant should know before participating in the childcare program is that no gesture is ever too small. The first few days at the orphanage I felt as if I was not doing "enough." I wanted to do more. But, I realized that the one thing those children need more than anything is love and affection. And one of the reasons why I chose childcare is because I love children. So therefore that is what I did, gave them love.

Now that you're home, how has your program abroad impacted your life?

This trip truly has been a humbling experience. I came to Guatemala in hopes of saving others, but it was I who needed saving too. Above everything love is what is most important.

Would you recommend IVHQ to others? Why?

I most certainly would recommend the childcare program. If you want to make a difference, if you want to spread love, if your heart is in the right place, then this is the placement for you.