Help! I’m volunteering with teenage girls!

There’s nothing that strikes fear in my heart like the thought of working with other women, especially working with teenage ones. I have learned so much from all of my volunteering and subsequent youth work roles over the past 5 years and, but to be quite frank, it hasn’t always been plain sailing. Personality clashes, gossip, activities that don’t match the student’s level, unwanted attention from men… But I have learned so much, and every success and defeat has lead me to this point.

There is no such thing as a bad experience. Learn From it!

I’ve spoken to a few friends who work in various fields with young people, and they have all told me one thing:

Building a relationship is the key.

I’ll be walking into yet another situation where I am “the new girl” (and not in a hot way, like Zooey Deschanel in the hit TV show) who doesn’t know where anything is or who is the best person to ask to get things done, but at least this time, I speak decent Spanish and I know enough to keep my mouth shut, my ears open until I know more about what makes the people around me tick.

Here is my plan on how I’m going  get to know the girls.

1. Introduce myself to all the girls on the first night.

Teenagers can smell fear, so in order to pretend that I’m not afraid, I’m going to bring a small something to give to each girl as a gift. One of my skills is arts and crafts, so I’m going to bring enough materials for each girl to make her own head band. On the first night, I’ll introduce myself to each girl, and give her a ribbon (which will be hers to keep to use in the workshop)

2. Bring a Frisbee.

The girls love to play sports at night to blow off steam, but when their ball goes over the wall they can’t retrieve it as it goes into El Bordo, a neighbourhood that is too dangerous to enter on foot. Hopefully by bringing a Frisbee we can get some informal games of Ultimate Frisbee going, which means that we can play without risk of losing the equipment.

3. Juggling.

Acting, theatre, and circus skills help people in their daily lives, from staying focused and calm while under pressure, to helping you to speak confidently in meetings and while giving presentations. I’m going to bring my juggling balls, and if there aren’t mandarin oranges available, get my driver to take me to a local market to pick up 20 or so to use as juggling balls for the girls.

4. Bring T-shirt customizing pens.

A few years ago, I invested in a set of T-shirt customizing pens. I’ve only used them once, so I’ll be taking them with me just in case there is some fabric that I can work with on a project with the girls.

5. Bring a harmonica.

A harmonica is a simple enough instrument that I can use it with the girls while doing rhythm and percussion activities. I know that they already have a guitar, but string instruments have never made sense to me, so I’ll bring something simple, lightweight, and cheap, in case I want to give it away when I leave.

All of these activities require minimal linguistic abilities. My role there isn’t as “English Teacher”, but “Stage Manager and Event Coordinator”, meaning that I need to motivate the girls and help them with rehearsals as well as being a bridge between the film crew and the school. But first I need to lay the groundwork for this, by building relationships with the girls, familiarizing myself with the facilities available, and settling in general.

How can I be confident in this new situation?

I think I’ll feel much more “official” if I make myself a name badge and get a t-shirt printed. That way, there will be no confusion about who I am or what I’m doing there, which often happens to new recruits in organisations both big and small.


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