Nina´s Story: Volunteering During the Pandemic

A Volunteer’s Story: Nina’s Help During the Pandemic

Hey everyone!

My name is Nina and I am a 21 year old Danish girl who just so happens to find herself at CILA during Covid-19… In this article it is my intention to share my story of how I ended up here in these crazy times, as well as give a sneak peek into what life has been like here at the volunteer house. 

After graduating high school in the summer of 2019, I, like most Danish high school graduates, decided that I wanted a year completely out of school – a so-called “gap year”. I have always loved children and really enjoyed babysitting, so I thought the perfect job for me would be in a kindergarten. I was lucky enough to be hired into a full-time position at a kindergarten near me in Denmark, and so that is where I spent the first 6 months of my gap-year. By January, I felt the travel fever start to kick in, and so I kept my eyes and ears open for any opportunities that would come my way. One quiet Sunday afternoon, I randomly stumbled upon CILA, and something in my mind just clicked. I knew that this was where I wanted to go. I had been to México during a two month study abroad program back in 2018, and fell in love with the beautiful country and its heartwarming people. Furthermore, I was in love with my job at the kindergarten, and the chance to combine being in Mexico with work in early childhood education seemed like the perfect opportunity for me. 

From that moment, everything happened very quickly. I applied for the volunteer program at CILA, quit my job and bought my plane ticket. March 4th I landed in Mexico City, very excited to yet again be in my absolute favourite country. I was looking forward to the next 4 months of my volunteer commitment at CILA, exploring the town on the weekends, visiting old friends and then travelling around the country for awhile. Well… we all know that is not what happened. 

I arrived to the volunteer house in San Miguel, and first of all was taken aback with what an amazing place it was. I then went on and had my first week of working at the daycare center. I had asked to spend the week with 3-year olds, so my days were spent in Maestra Mariana´s classroom assisting in playing with, laughing with, and caring for 12 amazing little kids. In a matter of 5 days, I formed a really special bond with the kids as well as the teacher, and by the end of the week I felt really at home at the daycare center and even felt my Spanish coming back to life. 

Me and Lalo during playtime in Mariana´s class

That Friday I got a call from home, announcing that Denmark had been completely shut down due to Covid-19. All schools were closed, non-essential workers were all going to work from home, and – more importantly for me – the Ministry of Foreign Affairs recommended that all Danes with permanent residence in Denmark return to Denmark. After a few very hectic days that included the news that CILA would have to temporarily shut down both the daycare and preschool, I decided that I would stay in México. This decision was made with careful thought, and I can honestly say I have not regretted it one second since then. Well, maybe when I was down with salmonella, but otherwise I have enjoyed my stay here regardless of all the madness. 

Going into this whole thing, nobody knew what was coming, and it was impossible to predict that we now, almost 5 months later, are still in quarantine. Our days have consisted in, first of all, a whole lot of talking and trying to grasp this situation. Secondly, we have since the beginning of the quarantine contributed to finding donations for the organization so that CILA can help out our families as much as possible during these tremendously challenging times. The teachers have been so cool and adapted super quickly to teaching kids from 3 months to 3 years ONLINE everyday! Up until June, they supplied the kids with different activities and tasks to keep their learning curve going up while hoping the curve of Covid-19 would flatten.

Throughout these past few months, I have been trying to figure out how I, as a volunteer could contribute to CILA, now that my original plan (teaching, playing, caring for the kids) unfortunately is not possible. I have helped with social media content, helped deliver packages of food and other necessities to the families, made cards and gifts for different holidays such as Mother’s Day and Teachers Appreciation day. I have tried to assist the permanent CILA team in any way possible – this has included many things, such as gathering information about how the families are holding up during these times and figuring out how we best help them. These are all such small things compared to the needs that are present at the moment, but I have come to realize that whatever I can do, helps. This contribution is highly appreciated in the CILA community. All of our families are so thankful and humble, and they deserve all the help and support we can give them. Whether this is supplying them with diapers for their 1-year old, or keeping  their 3-year old busy and learning with an online coloring class. 

Unfortunately, the decision has been made to keep the daycare recessed, even when schools can (hopefully!!) open back up in August. This is truly heartbreaking to me, as I got to witness how much the kids thrive in this school and how much they love being around their teachers and classmates. Through interviews and questionnaires it has also become obvious to me how thankful the parents of the kids at CILA are for the services that CILA usually offers at the daycare center. If not impossible, it is super challenging for the parents in our community to maintain a job whilst having to care for their little ones themselves. Put shortly, the CILA daycare center really is a unique place, that I hope will be brought back to life as soon as possible. 

As of right now, mid-July, I was supposed to be who-knows-where, travelling around México and getting ready to go back to Denmark. Instead, I am sitting at my desk in my room here at the CILA house, taking in my surroundings and feeling very safe and at home. I have changed my return ticket, and have no plans of going home anytime soon.

My big “gap-year-get-to-know-yourself-trip” has certainly taken a twist, but I am so very thankful that I ended up where I did. I feel like this experience has taught me more than I could have learned anywhere else during this time. To anyone wanting to come down, I’d highly recommend it. For me, it has been a time of reflection and introspection. Though this experience might have been intensified through the current state of our world, I truly believe that CILA facilitates a place of growth; not only for its students, but for its volunteers as well.

Nina Rysholt Dyekjaer

**All photos of me and the children were taken pre-quarantine