I have been volunteering ever since I was young, balancing my time between it, paid jobs and studies. After I returned from my first international experience - a cultural exchange programme between Peruvian and Dutch youth - an organization called Ashoka Peru asked me to help empower underprivileged young people through educational projects involving sports, youth leadership, environmental issues and awareness and prevention of sexually transmitted infections.
This gave me an understanding of the problems facing my country, strengthening my determination to help solve them. It showed me how voluntary work and passionate leaders can bring about social change, and inspired me to continue volunteering. And I learned that smiles of affection and gratitude are the best payments that volunteers could ever hope to receive.
After finishing studies in international relations in Lima, I was offered a voluntary position with a British NGO, Peace Child International, to coordinate youth leadership and participation projects in Latin America and Asia. I would tell British youth about my experiences with young people in my country - about their impoverished schools and how they would fight for a better life despite all their problems. Over time, many began to show an interest in volunteering as the spirit of international cooperation caught on.
Now I am back in Peru, and I know that there is still much to do. I have set short-term goals for myself to create an NGO, promote volunteering activities and keep participating in youth projects - always as a volunteer. Currently I am working for WWF - identifying potential leaders in the area of conservation and supporting them in their studies - but I make time to volunteer with other organizations as well. It does not matter whether your actions are big or small, so long as you do them with the best of intentions. There is nothing to lose and so much to gain from volunteering - and it is the best feeling in the world to give freely without expecting anything in return.
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