If you are anything like me, you probably grew up with the idea planted into your head that you should volunteer; that you should help out others that are not as lucky as you are in some way, shape, or form. However, moving to a new community, with a new culture AND a new language, it can be difficult to figure out what volunteer activities are available for guiris like you to do.
Now, I am no volunteer expert, but there are several ways that I have found volunteer opportunities in the different places I have lived in Spain.
‘Normal Volunteer Organisations’ (foodbanks, red cross)
Just like in the States, there are a multitude of organisations here in Spain that would love to have extra hands. Especially at specific times of the year (such as Christmas), these organisations have more activity—and more good to do—than they could possibly do on their own. Sign up to lend a hand and see if you can make someone’s day brighter.
My story: In 2016, as a gift to my mother for her birthday, I signed up for a food drive held by a local organisation. I hung out all morning in a grocery store in a not-so-well-off neighborhood and tried to convince shoppers to donate some food to the cause. We had a list of ‘most needed’ supplies so one of the jobs was to talk to people as they were heading into the store. Another job was helping people pack their bags (there are NO bag packers in Spain), and a third job was organising all the donations. Honestly, it was hard work and I was exhausted by the time we were done with our shift! A the same time, I was really impressed with the caring nature of the people I saw in the store—we received so many donations that I was inspired to “go shopping” myself and make a contribution!
As a native English speaker you will probably find that your English skills are in high demand around the city you are living in. You can take advantage of this situation and teach English for money, but you can also get in contact with the local schools and see how you can volunteer in the community. Focus on getting in touch with English teachers at the school or neighborhood parents who can put in a good word for you with principal in addition to showing up on the doorstep of the school. It might not be easy for you to get started or express what you are hoping to accomplish, but be open to the possibilities and remember that what you do does make a difference, even if it is just helping out the next person that comes along and wants to volunteer.
My story: In 2009/2010 I volunteered at a local school. The English teacher there already had experience with native English speakers coming in to help out, so it wasn’t a huge deal for me to get involved. My ‘job’ was to hang out with individual students, providing them both with specialised attention in specific areas and helping them feel like they got a special break from normal class.
Dani’s Story: I also gave English classes on a volunteer basis and it was as easy as walking into my local centro civico (community center) and asking if I could. After filling out a very basic application form to get assigned a class and timetable, I was able to put up fliers around town. I was happily surprised to receive 30+ students that very first day (Thank God my friend and I had planned to do the class together and were able to split into two separate groups)! It was really rewarding to work with my students in this class as they were mostly middle-aged to senior citizen-aged who had genuine interest in learning the language—not just passing an exam.
Specialised Volunteer organisations
There are so many different NGOs that rely on volunteers to make their story possible. In Granada I have participated in many different things, from working with organisations that focus on at-risk children to those which are worried about social development to others which look to support the elderly. This may be my favorite way to have an impact on my local community and I really value the time that I can spend with these organisations.
My story: My most long term volunteer story is with a wonderful organisation here in Granada that focuses on at-risk kids. My first year of university one of my teachers recommended an NGO and, without really knowing what I could offer, I contacted them. Because I am a native English speaker, they set me up with a family with two young kids tutoring English once a week. The eldest has left school now, but I still try to go every week to see the younger one (who is now 16—6 years later). They may never have gotten the best grades, nor been the best at school, but this might be the only class in Granada that I could never give up. The kids, and their family, are truly special people and I am thankful for everything they have shared with me.
What do you think? Are you inspired to get out there and make a[n albeit small] difference? If you need any more inspiration, help, or advice, please feel free to contact me and I would be happy to support you in any way possible.