If I’m entirely honest, sometimes I feel that volunteering is one of the most selfish things I do.
I still vividly remember my early days in Medellin, the weirdly delicious mixture of excitement and pure terror – was I really about to try and call this immense, beautiful city my home for the next year? As I imagine is the case with a lot of the newcomers to this city, it wasn’t long before I was journeying on the metro cable up to Parque Arvi, Medellin’s beautiful ecological park in Santa Elena. It was during that first leg of my journey that I first encountered the barrio Santo Domingo; we soared over-head, floating in our little plastic bubble like a fish in a tank – separated from the real world. I remember thinking that I had never seen such an area, the houses protruding from the mountainside, precariously balanced one on top of the other, as the residents scurried about in the streets beneath me.
So I never would have thought that less than a year later that the very same barrio would hold such an important place in my heart. I never imagined that I would be mounting that very metro cable twice a week, every week, completely and utterly by my own free will. But I do.
PRIME, a language learning space and foundation for community projects in Medellin, offers foreigners the opportunity to teach or assist in their free community English lessons which they offer to young people who live in the community. It has been without a doubt one of the most personally rewarding things I have done in Medellin, if not my entire life!
The founders of PRIME are three young and engaged young foreigners who have created the language school as a means to continue with the voluntary teaching projects that they were already involved in. As they have expanded, they have begun to help other foreigners who are looking for opportunities to volunteer by inviting them to participate in the six different available free classes that they host both in Santo Domingo and also in the Comuna 13. Not only do they offer the opportunity to be involved in the community classes, but they also co-ordinate social projects which are ran and lead by the students within the two different areas of the city.
I really can’t begin to describe how being a part of this has changed my life; not only has my outlook been completely restructured – with my old values of day to day life being constantly questioned and reassessed; but also I have been granted the opportunity to make lifelong friends with some of the most beautiful young people I have ever had the good fortune to come across. Tim Minchin, the famous comedian, musician and songwriter said whilst collecting his Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters: “you don’t have to do it forever, but if you’re in doubt about what to do, be an amazing teacher.” I really couldn’t agree more, because in the short time in which I have been lucky enough to teach, has also, incredibly, been the time in which I have learned the most.