As part of our continuing coverage and support of TECHO, the youth-led non-profit that aims to eradicate poverty in Latin America, we interview Florencia Goluboff, a 23 year old Argentinian-American who volunteers with TECHO. She was happy to tell us about her experiences with TECHO, and what she’s learned as a volunteer in some of Latin America’s poorest communities.
Read Related: TECHO: Building a Poverty Free Future for Latin America
Mamiverse: What led you to volunteer with TECHO? How old were you when you first volunteered?
FG: Once I moved to the USA (in 2004), I was missing something, and volunteering seems to fill that something for me. I have volunteered all my life, ever since I can remember. But I never volunteered so often and with the passion as I do for TECHO. I was 21 when I first started with TECHO. I joined because I felt it was a good way to give back to my country, to help out Argentina and Latin America. I was always helping other countries (in previous organizations I was part of) and TECHO helps every country. I also joined because my friends were part of TECHO, and because it seemed like a fun and organized NGO (non-government organization)—and it is!
Mamiverse: What was your first volunteer experience with TECHO like? Where did you go, for how long, and what did you do?
FG: I went to a meeting to meet the directors and the other volunteers interested in TECHO (most of them were new, as was I). It was great! I felt like I was home, even though no one there was from Argentina. We were all there talking about poverty and volunteering; we all had the same purpose—that had never happened to me before. We talked about an upcoming to Mexico, for a construction project. I shared ideas for fundraising activities, and they put me in charge of one activity—the first time they met me!
It was during the summer, so I had more free time to organize things. I arranged everything alongside another volunteer and we had a successful fundraising event. 21 volunteers participated in a 10 hour long event and we raised almost $1000. It felt great to know I was leading that activity for TECHO; it is rewarding when you do good for someone else.
From there, we had more fundraising activities, and I was part of all of them. After we raised all the money needed, we went to Mexico to build 22 houses! We were a group of about 35 volunteers from Miami. It wasn’t my first service trip, but it was the first one with TECHO and the amazing group of volunteers we had. Volunteers at TECHO are different from any other volunteer in other organization—it’s like we are all family, and we are all friends, and we all enjoy helping together!
When we arrived to Mexico, a bus picked us up at the airport and drove us to a small city. There we went to a local school to drop our bags and start building. (TECHO volunteers sleep in their sleeping bags on the floors of a local school; it is an experience!) We Miami volunteers were paired with Mexico volunteers, and each of us went to a different site. It only takes 10 volunteers to build the house. Building the house, helping out, meeting the other volunteers, meeting the family who was going to own that house, their kids….it was amazing!
I did a little bit of everything, but what I remembered from that weekend, is painting the walls with the little kids, and playing soccer with the family and the volunteers. The best part of the construction is when it’s complete; we do a small ceremony for the family and we give them the house. It is very emotive and everyone cries. The family was very grateful; I remember the mother saying, “No one ever helped us as you did. This house you are giving us is the best present ever.” And one of the little kids said, “Now, if it rains I have a roof and I will be able to sleep at night and go to school the next day.”
All the effort we put forth in Miami paid off once we did the construction. It was the most rewarding feeling in the world.
Mamiverse: What did you learn from your experience with TECHO?
FG: I learned many things. I learned about the reality some people live in, poverty. I learned that there’s something we can all do, all the time, to help out. And even if it a small thing, everything helps. I learned to work with others, with volunteers, with the families. I learned we can all make a difference if we work together. I learned that I love helping, and that it is the most rewarding feeling and what makes me feel the best! I also learned not to complain about everything! Because there are people who have very little and live a good life, or at least they try!
Mamiverse: How has volunteering with TECHO changed your life?
FG: TECHO is all I talk about now! I am always thinking ways of involving more volunteers, and thinking of ways to fundraise. I feel TECHO is part of my family; I feel very connected with the organization and the cause. TECHO brought something to me that I was missing. It made me a better person. I am always surrounded with other volunteers who have the same purpose as I do. It fills me. And I rather spent my time helping out than watching TV, going shopping, etc.
Mamiverse: Why, in your opinion, is TECHO different from other NGOs working against poverty in Latin America?
FG: TECHO has a great team of directors who are young and enthusiastic. The fact that TECHO is led by young volunteers makes a difference. TECHO gives its volunteers an opportunity to take the lead and organize events, make decisions. TECHO makes the volunteers feel like they are very important and really, TECHO is nothing without the volunteers! We have a great team here in Miami, and I know it is the same for every country. TECHO is also very FUN!
TECHO is also different because of its intervention in the communities. It a long process; it starts with the transitional houses, but it keeps on giving to the communities, and TECHO stays with the families and keeps helping them. Volunteers in the countries where TECHO is building, become part of the family of the people who we are helping. When we went to Colombia this year, all the volunteers from Colombia acted like the sisters, brothers, daughters and sons of the families we were helping. They go back to the communities almost every Saturday to keep helping the families.
Mamiverse: What is your advice for a young person considering volunteering with TECHO?
FG: Do it! Try it out—you are going to love it. I’ve been a volunteer for 2 years and I am still with them because it makes me feel good to help others. TECHO is the best NGO I’ve ever been part of.