My Year of Volunteering

It was my mom who first planted the idea in my mind that we should always help our friends, neighbors, family… anyone, really, and anytime there is a need and we are in a position to help fill it. She didn’t call it volunteering, but I guess in a way, it was. Mom was always helping people out, even when she was a single mom in the Army, working full time and raising two girls on her own. Not that she, too, didn’t receive help from time to time, because that’s how volunteering works, right? The idea of good karma and that what goes around comes back around?

In college, I volunteered here and there when I could – both on campus and off. After college, I started working for the federal agency whose mission is all about creating volunteer opportunities for people all over the country. I then served as a Peace Corps Volunteer for two years and after my return back home, I began volunteering in my community: preparing and serving meals at a local shelter; tutoring kids in reading; taking pledges for my local NPR station…. I also started working for that same agency again, where I was surrounded by like-minded people who volunteered formally and informally on a regular basis. I suppose you could say that volunteering has been in my blood for a long time. Similar to running, for me, volunteering is a way of life.I can’t remember the first time I served as a volunteer, but I’m pretty sure it was a long time ago. I was a Brownie when I was six or seven and a little later a Girl Scout, so I’m guessing that’s probably the first time I volunteered in any sort of formal capacity. I did a lot of volunteer work in high school, because it was a requirement of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program, which was brand new at my school at that time, and I needed 150 hours of service in order to graduate with an IB diploma.

I started my new job on August 19th, and I’m realizing now, more than two and a half months later, that I haven’t written a single word about it. This is the first year that the school is offering seventh grade, so there were a few kinks in the beginning with scheduling and grouping the students by language proficiency level, but things are going pretty smoothly now.When M. and I got married, I knew that meant another move, leaving my job that I loved, and not necessarily having anything lined up for work. I thought I might enjoy being a housewife for a while, and I did, but I felt terribly guilty, like I wasn’t contributing. So, I was pretty happy when, after a few meetings with the directors of an English immersion school three blocks from our house, I was offered a job teaching seventh grade English.

Faces

Funny faces on the first day of school.

I have a fantastic group of nineteen kids in my Advanced English class, which is more or less Language Arts. We read literature, develop writing skills, study grammar, and generally have a good time together. I also teach a group of seven students who are new to learning English. I work three days a week for four hours a day, plus planning time at home to prepare for my classes. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I don’t have to be at school until 11:15, due to a recent schedule change. It’s a pretty ideal situation, now that some of the beginning-of-school-year challenges have been ironed out. (For the first 7 weeks, I was teaching five hours a day, with a pretty large gap in language proficiency levels within the same classroom. That was a challenge. However, when I asked the administration if they would consider dividing the students into more leveled groups and hiring another teacher, they kindly obliged, and it took a lot of pressure off me.)

Viva Mexico

Viva Mexico! Celebrating Mexican Independence Day.

The only major snag that didn’t quite work out was getting a work visa. I have a diplomatic passport, a diplomatic Mexican visa, and a Ministry of Foreign Relations identification card, and yet none of these documents allow me to work legally in Mexico. Upon researching the process to get a work permit, I learned that I might be able to get one in time for my last four months here, after paying a hefty fee that would take me at least another month to earn. Of course, there are ways of “getting around” the visa issue, but I am a rule-follower by nature and not one to take risks when it comes to stuff like that. So, I’ve made this year my Year of Volunteering.

Independence Day

Mexican Independence Day celebration

So far, my Year of Volunteering has been an opportunity to make new friends, improve my Spanish, meet and work with some really great kids, keep up my teaching skills, and do something valuable with my time. There is still a large part of me that feels guilty for not contributing financially to my family, but my hope is that I will leave something positive in Matamoros, because I know that being here, teaching English, is something really positive for me. And who knows, maybe one day, the good karma will come back to me.

Independence Day 2

Mexican Independence Day celebration.

Thank you for reading!

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