“A Volunteer Story: Victoria Palmer”

Victoria Palmer
Age: 20
Field of work/study: third year anthropology, minor in archaeology
Favourite Spanish word/phrase: “Que chevere!”
How you plan to change the world: By exploring the world, I want to engage in social justice programs to create a greater sense of community and solidarity across a wide span of cultures

It has been over two months since we first landed in Lima, Peru. Twenty-five volunteers, including myself, embarked on a two-week volunteer trip to South America. Never had I experienced a volunteer trip before, and I found myself wondering what it would be like. Will I learn Spanish quickly? Will the local community members speak any English? How will we communicate? How am I going to help them, with such a barrier between us? With these anxieties in the back of my mind, I went with full intention to stay calm and enjoy this exciting adventure with Solidarity in Action.

Within our first couple of days in Lima, we were immediately immersed into the local culture within Pacifico d’Villa, a local shantytown community that sits on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Each morning, members of the community – young and old – gave us a warm welcome. With my limited Spanish, I was able to say “Hola! and “Como estas?” By doing so I made the mistake of implying I knew more Spanish than I actually did, and was bombarded by more foreign words being thrown at me.

Throughout the course of our volunteer placements, both participants and local community members who were experiencing difficulty overcoming the language barrier began to resort to other forms of communication, such as hand gestures and drawings. This worked extremely well while I was teaching English to my young students, because we were able to find a common ground. For example, a fellow participant and I were teaching a group of young children the names of fruits and vegetables in English, which proved to be difficult without having the actual foods at hand. Then, one of our older students, Paula, handed me a piece of paper and a marker in which she motioned for me to draw what I was attempting to explain. I felt as if she could understand my frustration and had come up with a solution.

As the week progressed, I picked up more Spanish and I realized that communicating across a language barrier was an important process in which we learned from one another. I soon became less and less afraid of the language barrier through the understanding and patience of local community members such as Paula.

– Victoria Palmer, SIA Trip Leader (Peru 2012, Peru 2011)

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