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  • Writer's pictureHavana Chin

My Volunteer Experience in Portugal: Part One

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

I spent two amazing weeks in Portugal volunteering, learning Portuguese, meeting cool people from different places of the world, and buying and reading books. This experience was very interesting to say the least and it opened my eyes to all the privileges I have in life and how I can use my privilege to help others.


Disclaimer: This is going to be a very long blog post. Also everyone in this story is going to remain anonymous :)

This picture is from orientation day. They took in groups and we drove in tuk-tuks to a really high up place (I forgot the name) to take pictures.


Background information and expectations:

So before I dive deep into my experience in Portugal I want to provide some background information on the organization I was volunteering through and what I thought the experience was going to be like beforehand.


So I volunteered in Portugal through an organization and of course before signing up and paying, my mother and I researched the organization. In general we found that only a few people had a few bad experiences with this organization and everyone else had good things to say about their volunteer experiences. After researching the organization thoroughly we decided it was time to pick the location that allowed for sixteen year olds to volunteer. However, this organization is pretty big and it has a lot of volunteer programs based all over the world. This was very daunting for me since I am such an indecisive person and I can spend days trying to make a simple decision (which is what ended up happening). After many discussions with my parents I finally ended up choosing Portugal for my volunteer location. After choosing the location I had to choose a project to volunteer in. There were a lot of different projects but I really wanted to work on the youth support project since I love kids. After I choose the youth support project I read the description of the project so I would know what was expected of me once I arrived. I expected I was going to be helping children with their homework, reading to them, playing games with them, and organizing activities for them. After looking at the descriptions I looked at what the accommodations would look like and the type of food I would be eating and everything looked good. After choosing the destination, the project, and the time I was going to volunteer I finally decided to apply. Once I got in I completed all the necessary steps for my volunteer trip so that I would be properly prepared and ready.


Arrival:

Once I arrived at the airport in Portugal, I waited for someone from the local team that had partnered with the organization to pick me up as well as some other volunteers that were arriving at a similar time as me. Once the person arrived wearing the local team shirt the other volunteers started to show up.


Quick side note: Ok before I tell you what happened next you need to understand that my mother, who was traveling with me, had just left in a cab to go to her hotel in the city. Also note that I was expecting most of the volunteers to be in their teens or possibly in their early 20s (remember the age limit was 16 and up). Ok back to the story!


The other volunteers that showed up looked a lot older than me. At first I was a little shocked, I mean I was not expecting people who looked like full grown adults. I was expecting teenage girls, boys, or recent adults ( people who were eighteen or in their early 20s) who were just as excited, nervous, and a little unsure about this whole experience as I was. Instead I got adults who seemed very mature, excited, and seemed sure about this experience. So as you can imagine I was a little bit uncomfortable and very unsure how to approach them and talk to them. Once all the other volunteers arrived ( 3 to be exact) we all left the airport and the women who picked us up (she was very nice) drove us to the accommodation which was just couple minutes walk from the beach. In the car ride everyone went around and said their name, age, where they were from, and what project they were volunteering in. The first person said they were 33 and helping in food support, the second person said they were 29 and helping in the marine conservation project, the next person said they were 20 and working on the wildlife conservation project, and then I said I was 16 and helping in the youth support project...(cue the crickets). All three of the volunteers were, to the say the least, a little shocked. Once we arrived to the hostel, or the volunteer house, we checked in got and got the keys to our room. They then said we were free to do whatever we wanted for the rest of the day and curfew was at 11:00pm ( only for me since I was under 18). Then two of the volunteers left to go to their respective rooms and me and another volunteer went to our room which was on the second floor.


Quick side note: A month before the trip someone from the organization emailed me and said that all the new volunteers coming in to Portugal were going to be staying at a new volunteer house (rather than the usual house ). Curious, I looked at the attached pictures and the rooms were photographed in a way so that it looked like only two people were in a room. Ok back to the story!


When we entered the room, I was shocked! It was huge there was 6 bunk beds in the room which is 12 people in one room! Fortunately though there was only 2 girls that had moved in already. Once I set my bed up, plugged my phone in, and changed out of my airport clothes I sat on my bunk and panicked. I was in a new place, with unfamiliar people, who were all older than me, and who were probably not interested in being friends with a 16 year old girl. I had no idea what do with myself so I decided to read a book that I bought with me: One By One by Ruth Ware (totally recommend). After reading for an hour the two girls that had already settled in came into the room, one was from London and the other was from Indiana, and asked if I wanted to go out for a drink with them and a couple other volunteers. Of course, since I had nothing else to do I said yes! After getting drinks ( non-alcoholic for me) we all went back to the hostel for dinner and then I took a shower and got ready for bed while the rest of the volunteers went out.


Quick side note: Since all the other volunteers for the most part were over 18 they had no curfew so they went out partying every night. Ok back to the story!


Orientation:

The next day was orientation which was a lot of fun! I met a lot of new volunteers that were from all over the world, older than me, and in different placements than me (helping out in a different project). Below are a few pictures from orientation.

This is pink street which is a place in Lisbon. All volunteers were walking down it looking for a place to sit down and eat or grab a drink.


After walking down pink street, me and a couple other volunteers stopped at place to grab a quick bite and a drink ( non-alcoholic for me) before heading back to the hostel. This dish was called croquetas de carne it was so good!.


Ok I am going to end the blog post here because its already so long but in the next part I will talk about my actual placement/project experience, what I did over the weekend, and takeaways from this experience.

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