A few weeks ago I posted a list of several volunteer opportunities in Xela, Guatemala, tied loosely to a story about marching in an Iraq War protest in Washington, D.C. If you’ve read a few of the posts here you know that I have a dogged propensity for using this kind of narrative device to structure whatever I’m writing. So imagine my unease when my idea for this latest post didn’t seem to have any narrative to anchor it. Still, I decided to go ahead: I’m posting the first two letters I sent (via e-mail, earlier tonight) to the two organizations I’m most interested in volunteering with.

Fortunately, once my decision was made, I came up with not one, but two narratives to structure this post: first, an introduction narrating my decision-making process about this post, and second, the wider narrative of attempting to plan four months of living in Guatemala, five months ahead of time, without (in my case) speaking the language. So here goes. Note: if you want to just skim or skip the letters for now, and wait until later when I report on what happens, I don’t blame you; you are probably just as much of a junkie for narrative as I am. Also note: these letters are completely uncut, unedited, and exactly the kind of thing that you find fourteen things wrong with the moment you’ve sent them off.

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Dear Jaime,

I will be traveling to Xela on August 27, 2007, and I am really excited about the possibility of volunteering at El Nahual! I’ve been reading through your web site and materials, and it looks like you are running a wonderful center with lots of opportunities for locals and for volunteers. So I just wanted to send a preliminary e-mail well in advance to see if I might fit the guidelines for any of your volunteer opportunities.

I am from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the United States. Currently I work as a writer and a website designer, writing a book and building websites for small businesses, non-profit organizations, research centers, schools, and university departments. In the past I have also worked frequently with children, including work as a Summer Camp Assistant Director, Summer Camp Counselor, After-School Teacher, and Child Care Assistant. As a camp counselor I led dozens of trips in the wilderness for 9 to 16-year-old children. The after-school program was for 5 to 11-year-old children, and as a child care assistant I worked with 1 to 5-year-olds.

My college degrees are in Computer Science and English, but I have never taught English in a classroom setting (although I have helped children learn to read in the after-school program). Also, I speak very little Spanish, although I plan to study over the summer and attend language school once I arrive in Xela.

Do you think there could be an opportunity for me to volunteer at El Nahual? I love working with children especially, and would be thrilled to be able to help out with kids at the center. I would also be happy to donate my computer skills and English writing skills if necessary, and I love being outside, so I would be eager to help out in a garden or any other outdoor location. Please let me know if I would be considered for any of your opportunities.

Thank you for your time! I hope to hear from you soon.

Take care,
Ethan

An El Nahual Promo Picture

From the Volunteering Section of El Nahual’s Website

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I will be traveling to Xela on August 27, 2007 (planning to stay through December), and am intrigued about the possibility of volunteering for Quetzaltrekkers! I’ve been reading through your web site and materials, and it looks like you’re running a great program, creating opportunities for local children and providing rewarding placements for volunteers. So I wanted to send a preliminary e-mail, well in advance, to introduce myself and ask a couple more questions.

I’m from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the United States. Currently I work as a writer and a website designer, writing a book and building websites for small businesses, non-profit organizations, and educational institutions. In the past I have also worked frequently with children and in the outdoors, including work as a Summer Camp Assistant Director, Summer Camp Counselor and Trip Leader, After-School Teacher, and Child Care Assistant. During my seven years as a Camp Counselor / Trip Leader, I led dozens of trips in the Appalachian Mountains of Maryland and Virginia for 9 to 16-year-old children, from 3 days to 3 weeks in length. I have also taken dozens of wilderness trips of my own in the American West, Northeast, and in Tibet.

My first question is about combining Quetzaltrekkers guiding with other commitments. I see that the minimum commitment per month is three weekend trips. Does that mean that volunteering as a guide for Quetzaltrekkers could leave room for other, flexible volunteering commitments as well? I love leading trips, love being outside, and love the sound of your program, but I also really like working children, and would like lots of contact with local folks during my stay in Xela. If I could combine a commitment at Quetzaltrekkers with other volunteer work, I imagine my time would be that much better used. Does this sound reasonable?

My second question is about your street school. At the moment I speak almost no Spanish, but I am committed to studying over the summer and attending language school once I arrive in Xela. I’m not sure what level this would put me at in September or October, but as I mentioned above, I have a lot of experience working with children and find it challenging and fulfilling. Do you think there could be room for someone like me to help out at the school in some way?

Again, I’m really excited at the thought of working with Quetzaltrekkers! So thank you for your time, and I hope to hear from you soon.

Take care,
Ethan

Quetzaltrekkers Volunteer Logo

Quetzaltrekkers Volunteer Logo

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UPDATE!

Graham Henderson at El Nahaul replied with a very friendly e-mail, including the following:

“Having read your application, I feel that your distinct range of skills would allow you to contribute greatly to our programs here at El Nahual. Our volunteers come from a wide range of backgrounds and we feel this helps to create an interesting and diverse working environment. From your email I can tell that you are enthusiastic for working on our projects and, perhaps most importantly, you are flexible and willing to work on different things. This is important as we have a constant turnover of volunteers and the needs of the centre change from week to week. Therefore, we are very happy for you to come and get involved in our projects here and look forward to meeting you at the end of August!”

The reply from Quetzaltrekkers was slightly less encouraging, particularly:

“First, if you volunteer, you should’t expect to spend just 6 days a month guiding for us. All our volunteers are in the office almost every day, usually working 10-14 hours daily. The first day off that a volunteer gets may not be for months, if ever. This is not a light or part-time commitment.”

After I replied with surprise about the 10-14 hours in the office, I was glad to get this, less scary, reply:

“Ethan, it is a lot of hours in the office, but we always leave time to enjoy ourselves along the way.  And those hours include eating meals, etc.  Please do stop by and check us out when you get here.”

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