Volunteering in Venezuela [Part 2] - Aldeas de Paz

This is the second hub in my series about my travels to Venezuela to do voluntary work with children. The music to listen along with is a song that reminds me of my trip because I sung it a lot very loudly, trying to rap like Kanye. I listened to it when I was sunbathing, trying to sleep, reading in a hammock, pretty much every available moment. And when I hear it now I just grin like a fool. So listen to it while you're reading about Aldeas de Paz!

this is the beautiful view from the foundation!
this is the beautiful view from the foundation!
As is this!
As is this!
This is the kitchen! If you look to the right you can just about see how there is no wall!!
This is the kitchen! If you look to the right you can just about see how there is no wall!!
Hammock area! My favourite was the multi-coloured one. My bedroom was just on the right of the white hammock.
Hammock area! My favourite was the multi-coloured one. My bedroom was just on the right of the white hammock.

Aldeas de Paz - The Foundation

Aldeas de Paz is the name of the NGO (non-governmental organization) that I was volunteering for in Santa Elena, Venezuela. The site itself we referred to as ‘the Foundation’ which I will continue to do so throughout. I remember when we first arrived I was absolutely stunned by how beautiful it was. The view was phenomenal and it was sad when I realised it had started to become ordinary to me. In these photos you can see how far we could see across the Gran Sabana. How many people can say they have that view when they step out of their bedroom? The village of Santa Elena itself was at the bottom of the mountain and we were living a fair way up it. It took about 45 minutes for us to walk into town. I always ended up having to walk back up the mountain to the foundation in the midday sun and I always got laughed at because I get asthmatic and kept having to stop. It was even more unpleasant than the times I walked down in the pouring rain and thunderstorm.

Everything was really open; the walls didn’t reach the ceiling in the bedrooms, and the kitchen and eating area was basically outdoors, all open plan. It had a roof and walls (obviously) but it was still outdoors. I’m not explaining this well. Check the photos, maybe they will make more sense of what I am trying to say. Finally there was the hammock area, which was my favourite place to go, and possibly my favourite place in the world! The back door in my bedroom opened out directly onto the hammocks and consequently many nights I found myself getting out of bed and sleeping in a hammock instead. I’d just sit in a hammock, wide awake, and be asleep within five minutes! Good times. The bathrooms had saloon-type doors (like you see in old Western films) so any manner of animals could just wander in. Seriously. One of the guys had been using the bathroom only to turn round and find a frog staring back at him. I found paw prints going up the side of the shower cubicle and was at a loss to work out what kind of animal (rather than bugs) could actually walk up walls.

This is was my bedroom. I do NOT miss that bed!
This is was my bedroom. I do NOT miss that bed!
A photo of the foundation while I was bored one day waiting to get in the car.
A photo of the foundation while I was bored one day waiting to get in the car.
This is me, looking cool in my favourite hammock!
This is me, looking cool in my favourite hammock!

A Co-operative Living Environment

At Aldeas de Paz we lived in what was called a co-operative living environment whereby we all had to chip in with the cooking, cleaning and sometimes gardening. We had a rota so we all knew when we would be cooking, and what we were cleaning for that week. I love cooking, so I didn’t mind doing that a couple of times a week. It’s weird, when I’m at home, if I found a bug in a potato or tomato I would throw it out (as I imagine a lot of people would), but in Venezuela I’d find a bug in something I’d just cut it out and carry on!

A lot of vegetables we used were ones grown on the foundation and the guy running Aldeas de Paz insisted on only buying food produced in Venezuela. This did lead to a lot of us going to the supermarkets in Santa Elena and buying crisps, chocolate, Coke and cheese, oddly enough. The locals all ate this weird white cheese (I’m fairly sure it wasn’t from a cow … or a goat) that I (and many others) thought was ridiculously horrible. It was really salty and, well, just gross. So we used to buy regular yellow cheese, very expensive yellow cheese, to make pizza, put on pasta etc. They also only bought powdered milk at the foundation so we could only eat cereal if someone had previously gone out and bought regular milk. We had to make coffee on the stove. Real South American coffee! At home I drink instant coffee, so it was really weird having to make coffee on the stove and then filter it into a cup. This was a particularly interesting experience since the pans didn’t have proper handles, just weird grabby things at the side, which inevitably meant that I burnt myself many many times. As I’ve started writing about it I’ve realised how much I actually miss that coffee!

You can learn more about volunteering and Venezuela in: Walking with Lions by Alistair Mirfin

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