Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Day in the Life of a Volunteer

Good morning everyone!  It's Friday morning, the one weekday that I don't have to catch the bus early for work or go to Basque class, so what might I be doing?  Well, I am heading off to volunteer at a shop down the street from my house called Intermón Oxfam.  Listed as the largest NGO in the world, I volunteer in thier shop selling fair-trade items from around the world.

Formed in 1956 as a religious project aimed on helping in Bolivia, Paraguay and India, the organization gained more force in the 70s as it worked for social change in countries around the world.  In 1997. Intermón joined with 14 other groups and formed Oxfam Internacional - which is how it is now today, or Intermón Oxfam (the Spanish branch of the organization).  By doing this, they sucessfully were able to call themselves the largest NGO and now work in 46 countries around the world.  Since they are a large organization now, they make quite a big impact, and although I am only a little part of it, I am happy to do what I can.  What I actually do is work in one of the free-trade shops that guarentees products that were purchased with a fair wage and equal working rights between men and women.

I learned about the massive organization because I myself was a shopper at the store where I now volunteer.  I found out that they sell biological fair-trade coffee and tried it and liked it.  While I am not saving the world, I think paying a bit more for my coffee so that the person who made it gets a fair wage is important.  Throughout the store we have tons and tons of things, things that each time I dust or ring up, I realize more of which I want to buy.  From hand-made instruements from Asia or children's toys from Latin America or hand-sewn scarves by women in Africa or hand-carved wooden games from South America, all of the things I see, I love.  In a genius marketing move, a lot of the packaging has a photo of a person who 'could' have made your product.  There is a certain face for the coffee I buy (a nice black man wearing South American dress) or the biological rice (a South American woman with a beautiful smile).  Other things are marked with a sticker that states which country they were made it.  In the end, with the Indian or South American 'mood' music in the background, the brightly colored items decorating the store and the free-samples of delicious biological and fair-trade chocolates, its a dream place to volunteer.'s a dream until one day I end up buying the handmade leaf covered notebook, the stunning red glass vase, the simple but lovely scarf, the key chain of little stones, the colorful picture frame or tons of ecological pasta!  Then it will be like I'm paying to work there.  And although there is a recession, I guess I try to remind myself that there is a recession everywhere, and if I can spare a few extra Euros, then I would rather spend it on a fair-trade item that I need (food, coffee, etc) than the newest T-shirt on the market. 

Other ways that Intermón makes a difference are through Development - in which they create long-term programs to get rid of poverty and demand justice.  They also respond to emergencies with volunteers and aid in times of disaster.  And it seems they always have a campaign going - always trying to raise awareness of how the world can change for the better.  This weekend, the campaign I will be helping with is called the Project Tanzania - and is set up to help combat the drought that they are suffering.  With aid and a year-long help program, Oxfam is working to help Tanzanians back onto thier farming feet.  With the activities planned throughout the year, it is estimated that 4,300 people will be directly helped and as a result of that, more than 70,000 will see the positive results. 

This weekend in San Sebastian, there was a huge tourism convention, with booths from around the world.  We were offered a free booth to sell the fair-trade items and inform people about the organization.  So, of course I signed up to help!  Bright and early Saturday morning, I headed to the convention center and as soon as I arrived put on a volunteer shirt.  For part of the day I worked helping sell items and the other part of the day I helped in the 'kids area' of our booth assisting a bunch of children to make windmills and pins!  They loved them!  The best is that the parents let thier kids stop and make a toy and then they have to wait around, so what do they do?  Buy things from the shop.  At the fair, I didn't know practically anyone, so I made a bunch of new friends - some right around my age!  Two girls, Nerea and María work on Fridays like me, but in the afternoon, and we are already talking about on Friday night meeting up after thier shift is over.  So, not only did I get to help volunteer, but also met some nice people.  In April, there is another festival that we can sign up to volunteer for, and you bet your bottom dollar, I'll be there!

Overall, I am very happy and proud to have become a member of a meaningful volunteer project.  While I am just starting, I am yearning to learn more and participate in more campaigns throughout the year.  I am happy to share with you all, the link to the website of Oxfam International HERE.  This is the English website, so you can all enjoy.  But, for those of you who trust your Spanish, here is the website of the wing of the organization that I am part of by clicking HERE. 


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