Voluntourism. It’s definitely a buzzword nowadays, isn’t it? I have always called it philanthropic travel (which is really hard to say, honestly!), but no matter what it’s called, I personally think that they are trips worth taking. One recent trip of mine involved heading to Centro Infantil de los Angeles in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico to volunteer for a few days at a daycare. Here is what I experienced. P.S. You can experience it, too!
I was invited as a guest by Centro Infantil with the express purpose of letting others know about getting involved in volunteering. I came away with more – a heart, vision, and love for their programs. All opinions are mine.
just a word before I begin…
Before I start, I want to communicate to you that YOU can take this trip. Besides visiting some of the other outreaches, you can do exactly what I did for as long or as little (3-day minimum) as you would like. So, instead of viewing this as my trip and my experiences – which they obviously are – I would love for you to look at it through a “do I want to take this trip” type of lens. If you are considering volunteer work, I think this is a perfect way!
about Centro Infantil de los Angeles
A bit of background about Centro Infantil is necessary before I go a bit further, so here is a brief history. Centro serves the purpose of providing free daycare to families that are in great need in San Miguel de Allende. It’s amazing to me that the city itself is full of expats, yet there is such poverty in the area. Many girls get pregnant young, and there are a lot of single mothers who need to work. This situation leaves a lot of children at home alone to fend for themselves while their parent(s) are out working. Centro Infantil fills this gap.
Their center can take up to 100 children from a few months old through preschool age. Mothers are also asked to volunteer at Centro doing jobs such as cleaning and helping with the children. Several staff members are employed to cook for the children – they receive both breakfast and lunch – and also manage the classrooms. So, children who formerly could have been left to fend for themselves are being cared for, fed nutritious meals, interacting with others, learning, and also being introduced to English (mainly through the volunteer programs).
To me, it is definitely a win-win!
Centro Infantil de los Angeles
This may seem like an odd place to start, but I want you to journey along with me! When I think of Mexico, I think of a quick jaunt to destinations from the airport and gorgeous beaches – I took 3 bathing suits and wore none of them, lol. San Miguel de Allende is in the middle, nowhere near a beach, and it is also about a 2-hour ride from the Leon/Guanajuato airport. Centro Infantil was able to arrange transport for me, which was a lifesaver! So, I arrived late at night, and the first thing I saw was the facilities. The volunteers stay on property, which is so convenient! The rooms are next to the daycare and separated by the playground.
Pictured below is the kitchen area where volunteers can cook for themselves. There is a long table, which was fabulous for talking, checking emails and getting to know the others in the volunteer house. You will also see the room where I stayed with my roommates, Alison and Lauren (miss you girls!). I had the middle bed.
Sidebar: roosters in Mexico are very confused and crow a bit at all hours of the night. My roommate, Lauren, was smart enough to set her phone on white noise all night long, so we were blissfully unaware of the crowing. I’d highly suggest downloading a white noise app (or taking earplugs, although the noise isn’t THAT bad) before you head out. And, yes, there is wifi at the volunteer house. Super important, right?
a stunning view from the rooftop of Centro Infantil de los Angeles
The building was constructed for the express purpose of daycare, so it is lovely and definitely well thought out. Again, the location has a playground in between the daycare and volunteer housing, and the daycare itself consists of classrooms, a kitchen, multiple bathrooms, a playground, and a central courtyard. Take a peek! I love how the door has a childlike angel.
I volunteered in a classroom where the children were between 1 and 2 years old. When I walked in, I saw lots of little children sitting under the table on potties. Since they are toilet training, they do spend a great deal of time on there! So, nine little kids were lined up on tiny portable toilets. It did make me chuckle a bit!
The duties I had consisted of mainly helping the teacher manage that amount of children. And THAT is where volunteer work comes in. Despite a language barrier, it’s not too difficult to communicate when dealing with kids! I did things like empty potties (a bunch of this, lol), divvy up snacks, go to the kitchen to bring breakfast and lunch to the classroom, dance, sing songs, put children down for naps, and help get them groomed for pickup.
Here is what a typical schedule looked like for the day for me at Centro Infantil.
- 9:00 am – arrive ready to volunteer
- 9:30 am – breakfast (you may have to be the one go to the kitchen and deliver trays to all of the classrooms, there is a schedule for that)
- 10:00 am – normal classroom things such as potty, games, singing and the like
- 11:30 am-1:30 pm – naptime (generally volunteers can take a break to go back to their rooms and such)
- 1:30 pm – lunch (same routine as breakfast)
- 2:00-3:00 pm – clean up, do more activities with the children
- 3:00 pm – parents start to pick up the kids
- 3:00 pm – free time for volunteers for the rest of the day
Let me just say that the teachers have these things down to a science. Honestly, they HAVE to when they are managing that many children on their own. My teacher – Lilia – had less trouble putting almost a dozen kids to sleep when I had trouble with ONE baby at a time as a mom. These children know their routine, and they are happy to stick by it. It’s a wonderful system to watch!
same boy before grooming (above) and after (below) for pickup – adorable!
Now, of course, the other volunteers had similar – yet different – experiences because they were dealing with other age groups. So while I was emptying potties, I came across Alison taking kids to the bathroom, and I saw Lauren on the playground of Centro Infantil. I did want to take a peek at what else was happening so that I could convey it to you, so here is what I found.
The children on the playground were so happy to be out enjoying themselves and getting some much-needed exercise. It definitely looks different than an American play area, but the kids enjoyed it all the same. And that gorilla is so fab!
I also snuck into the baby room because…babies!! And well-behaved ones at that. Such sweet little children who are benefiting from all that Centro Infantil has to offer. Alice was volunteering in this room, which was full of cutie pies! Joanna was volunteering with some of the older children and was also a part of our group of writer/volunteers.
There are also several partner organizations I would like to highlight, but I am going to save that for another post. Centro Infantil impacts other organizations and also benefits from others who are doing good things in the San Miguel de Allende area of Mexico.
Feel free to check out my other Central America posts here.