Volunteering with persons with disabilities in Chile

Project Trust has been placing Volunteers in projects run by Chilean charity Coanil since 2010/11. Felicity Morrow, Desk Officer for Chile for three years, told us about how Coanil work and what Volunteers experience at Coanil projects.

Project Trust Gap Year Chile

Volunteers Anna and Holly at a Coanil project

Coanil is a very well-known charity in Chile, that we have been working with for the last five years. Coanil is engaged in a wide range of work, including running care homes and schools, running conferences, campaigning and raising awareness of the rights of people with disabilities. The charity provides a high quality of care and a bespoke education to ensure people with disabilities aren’t marginalised and have equal opportunities and living standards.

In my three years working at Project Trust our Volunteers at Coanil have made some of the biggest positive impacts I’ve seen young people make. Similarly some of the most significant personal development I’ve seen in Volunteers has been in those placed in Coanil projects.

The Coanil projects we send Volunteers to have both a care home and a school for people with disabilities. It means the Volunteers are immediately out of their comfort zone and working in a challenging environment. The Volunteers spend the day working as assistant teachers in the school. In an ideal world the pupils in the classes the Volunteers work in would all have one-to-one learning support, but that isn’t possible. The extra support and engagement the Volunteers can provide in the classroom adds significant value to the pupils’ education.

The other half of the Volunteer role is working in the Coanil care home, which is a bit more of a blank canvas. It gives a lot of scope for the Volunteers to bring their interests and skills to the project. In the past Volunteers have run activities including gardening, football, dance, art and many more. Volunteers take the people who stay at the home for excursions in the local community to allow them to be exposed to life outside of the home and to meet new people.

Volunteers at Coanil projects are exposed to a phenomenal range of experiences and learn a huge amount. They vastly develop their communications skills, in particular exploring alternative ways to communicate and the value of positivity and encouragement. Most importantly the Volunteers learn to get to know people by their personalities not their disabilities. I think it would be impossible to work with some of the most disadvantaged and marginalised people in society for a year and not become hugely compassionate.