My husband, Bruce, and I are retirees from Gorham, Maine. Here in Guatemala we are known as jubilados. Because of its similarity to the English word jubilant, I love this word used to describe retirees. When we decided to volunteer at Safe Passage for 6 weeks, we knew that there might not be many other jubilado volunteers. As it turns out, we are the only seniors volunteering at this time. The rest of the volunteers are young college students or recent grads, with the occasional person who might be “only” 25 or 30 years younger than we. What has it been like to be the only gray heads on the bus to and from Guatemala City each day? Interesting! While we sometimes wish there were more of us, there are many advantages to volunteering at this time of life.
Like volunteers of all ages here at Safe Passage, we have loved having the opportunity to develop relationships with the children. Despite the difficult lives that they endure in the dump neighborhood, they are open, vivacious, and so eager to let you into their lives. As seniors, we have the added satisfaction of being able to offer skills and experience, developed over a lifetime, to an organization that really needs them – without the heavy sense of responsibility that we felt when working during the height of our careers. I go home at the end of the day without the typical teacher’s canvas bag full of homework to be completed in the evening, as I did for so many years when teaching kindergarten fulltime.
Most of the volunteers live in a “home-stay”, a Guatemalan home which provides bedrooms and all meals, usually to a number of guests. Home-stay hosts also clean your room and change the bed linens each week, and it is the custom for laundry to be sent out for you (at a small cost). Young volunteers may not encounter anything very unusual about this arrangement. However, we haven’t enjoyed this kind of nurturing since we left home a lifetime ago! I wouldn’t want it to go on forever, but I’m basking in it for now.
Being surrounded by the youthful energy, ideas, and fresh perspectives of our fellow volunteers, not only from the United States but also from other nations, is contagious and infuses our own experience with overflow optimism. We enjoy hearing their plans for the future and sharing their enthusiasm for their work with the children of Guatemala. We have witnessed their love for the kids and have come to understand and appreciate their courage and commitment. It lifts us up and keeps us looking forward along with them! That’s got to be good for us!
Our work at Safe Passage has involved many adjustments and challenges, as one would expect in any human service organization, especially in a developing nation with cultural differences. However, for us, being senior volunteers has been an immensely rewarding and interesting experience. We encourage other jubilados to consider offering their gifts to children and families who sorely need them. The returns in the form of satisfaction, rich memories, and new relationships are immeasurable!