After the 8.8 earthquake that struck Chile in February, I received a number of e-mails from readers interested in volunteering in affected communities. I was touched to see how many people, including some who lived thousands of miles away, wanted to help.
Months later, there's still a lot of work to be done. One of the groups that has continuously participated in the recovery effort is the University of Chile's student federation, the FECh. Immediately after the disaster, the group mobilized volunteers to collect and distribute aid; since then, FECh volunteers have made weekend trips to affected areas. Now that winter break is coming up for Chile's students, the FECh is planning a weeklong trip to Region VI's Paredones. From July 24 to 31, volunteers will work patching up emergency housing -- a very necessary task now that the cold, rainy season is at its height -- and participating in a number of other activities, such as workshops for local kids.
If you're in Chile and have some time on your hands, this would be a great way to make a difference. I think it would be especially ideal for exchange students who have a break between semesters. Looking back, I wish I'd signed up for trabajos voluntarios back when I was studying abroad: Not only is it a great way to give back to the country that's taken you in, but it's a perfect environment within which to make Chilean friends.
Most FECh volunteers are Chilean undergraduates. However, you don't have to fit this description to participate in their volunteer activities. I've joined up twice -- once for a two-week summer project in Region IV's Canela and again for earthquake relief work -- and was neither a student nor Chilean at the time. I've found that meeting the general description of "young person" works.
More information on the trip, including sign-up instructions, is available here.