milONGa: 8 years of international volunteering
By Janeth Cárdenas Belmonte
Some of the experiences and impressions of the volunteers who, in the last eight years, participated in the international volunteering program of milONGa.
We cannot wait to immerse ourselves in a new culture, in new relationships, and to be surprised by a new world.
With these words, Silvia and Giovanni described what they were living on the eve of their journey towards Ecuador. They are the first volunteers to reach Awanalink, one of the new destinations of milONGa.
Like them, many youth from all over the world, filled with expectations, dreams, fears and desires but willing to donate themselves and “dirty their hands”, depart to transform the many realities of inequality and inequity that characterize our times.
Almost eight years have passed since the beginning of the first volunteer experiences with milONGa. But this dream already began years before, when the youngsters of the Focolare Movement felt the need to broaden the outlook to strengthen the involvement of young people. At the same time, in Latin America, UNIREDES, a regional network of social organizations whose social line of action is based on fraternity, expressed their desire to involve the youth in their community work.
During that period, in 2014, there was another important precedent: the Hombre Mundo project, an experience lived by adolescents from around the world who had the opportunity to volunteer for a certain amount of time in different parts of Latin America. From that experience, the idea to make way for a permanent project for the youth, a sort of long-term Hombre Mundo, was born.
At the end of 2014, the first meetings amongst the Center of the Focolare Movement, the Focolare Movement Association in Brazil, the Sumá Fraternidad of Argentina, and some experts in international cooperation were held. There weren’t limits! It was the “Let’s dream together” phase, as Virginia Osorio, one of the creators of milONGa says. The result was a volunteer program that could have been realized in various ways, but only became a concrete reality when the first experiences began.
The first volunteers were the pioneers of a program that built up as the interest of young people grew and the needs of local organizations emerged. Those first volunteers had the courage to put their faith in an experience that was new for all. Then, thanks to the “word of mouth” spread by the youth themselves, the program gained visibility.
“We did not have a website, and we did not know if we would have had the support of international cooperation. We just had a document that presented the different volunteering opportunities and that we shared on the social media”.
From these first experiences, we all learnt something. The youth themselves took the project and actively contributed to its development.
Over the years, we lived numerous experiences with the volunteers. To motivate us are the beautiful experiences that arise from the service and from a reciprocal donation, like that of a Spanish couple, Alessandra and Rodrigo, volunteers in Paraguay, who, during the concluding party of their volunteering period, surprised the entire community with a marriage proposal. At the wedding, they invited the people who had hosted them but could not be present. The relationship, anyway, remains, as does the sense of family born during their experience with UNIPAR.
Some youth found their professional vocation by putting themselves at the service of others, and there are also those who changed their jobs after the experience of living there. This was what happened to Giacomo, who decided to study anthropology after having lived in Kenya, or to Martina, who, after having lived a month in Paraguay, chose to work on international cooperation.
Then, there are those who have made volunteering their way of life. Nicolò and Ana, who were volunteers at the Casa de Los Niños in Bolivia, created such a strong bond with the local people that during the pandemic they set up various initiatives to help them. Later, they both lived new volunteer experiences in other destinations.
milONGa is “an experience that I will take along my whole life”, “getting involved today”, “a dream become more than reality”, “donate voluntarily, a choice I continue to renew”, “the strongest experience of my life”, “the most intense two months I have ever lived”, “going towards a new home”… nmerous words and phrases that express the most profound feelings of each volunteer of milONGa. There is one point that everyone agrees on: we started out to give, but we received much more… And that is precisely the great challenge of the program: to build bonds of reciprocity in which everyone can give and receive.