For my placement with IVHQ, I was at Animal AWARE (Animal Welfare Association – Rescue/Education). Founded in 1998 by Xenii Nielsen, this charitable organization focuses on rescuing and rehabilitating domestic animals. They are non-profit and receive no government assistance. Their goal is to get these animals adopted, whether locally or abroad, and provide all the shots and medication necessary for each animal. With over 300 dogs and over 100 cats this organization needs all the volunteers they can get.
Animal AWARE is about 40mins away from Antigua which meant I had to take a chicken bus to get there. If you are not familiar with chicken buses they look a little something like this:
They are exactly what they look like in the picture; repainted, old school buses. They get the name ‘chicken bus’ from the fact that passengers are often crammed in like chickens. It’s honestly not as bad as it sounds. Not only is this an incredibly cheap way to travel, it also is a great way to experience how a lot people here travel to work or school everyday.
If you are considering volunteering in Central America through IVHQ and are a little unnerved by chicken buses, fear not. On your first day, one of the field coordinators from Maximo Nivel (the company that IVHQ operates through in Guatemala) goes to and from your placement with you (offering helpful tips along the way), which makes it so much easier and more comfortable. Also, you will most likely have someone to take the bus with, whether they are one of your housemates or someone you meet at you placement. My friend Andrea was also volunteering at Animal AWARE and our friend Imane also took the same bus as us from Antigua.
Chicken buses are often deemed unsafe, however I never once felt unsafe (other than perhaps by how fast they go) and I think if you want a cultural experience to go for it. There are obviously stories about people getting pick pocketed, but be street smart; don’t take a chicken bus at night (especially by yourself) and don’t make yourself an easy target (like taking out all your money on the bus and begin to count it).
Positive World Travel has a great article on chicken buses if you are planning a trip to Central America or just want to read a bit more about them.
Anyways, back to the animals. Once you get off the bus there is a dirt path on the side of the road that is about a half mile hike uphill to the shelter.
One of the first cages you will see upon entering is the one that has these three adorable puppies in there. They were recently left in a bag at the shelter’s door and are luckily in great hands now until they get adopted. They are just little love bugs and ready to greet you with a ton of puppy kisses.
This picture makes me laugh so much. After they finished their lunch they proceeded to sniff in a circle to double check for any missed kibble:
Along with feeding the puppies, most of my tasks there involved walking the dogs and cleaning cages. Obviously, the latter is not the most glamorous job, but the way I see it is these animals cannot live in filth and can not obviously clean their living quarters themselves, so I had no problem getting my hands dirty.
Now to introduce you to some of my favourite animals I got to spend time with at the shelter:
If adopting abroad wasn’t so expensive I can guarantee you this guy would of came home with Andrea. Mohawk apparently had barely any hair when he came to the shelter and though he may sort of still resemble a large rat, this is great progress for him. He mostly keeps to himself inside the clinic and was pretty timid when I first met him. One of my best memories was when one of the dogs, Loki, came inside the clinic and started shaking a blanket. Mohawk was watching, so I was trying to show him how to play with the blanket too. He was a little awkward, but when he finally understood the concept he was having so much fun! He started jumping around and was panting from all the excitement. I don’t know, things like that just make my heart happy.
Last, but not least, I’ve got to mention Orange, the cat. Orange would greet me every morning by climbing up onto my shoulders and nuzzling into me. This cat had so much love to give and I looked forward to seeing him each morning.
I would of loved to have gotten more pictures at Animal AWARE and met more of the animals, but my stay was so short and my priority was helping out where needed. However, I can confidently say I will return to Animal AWARE (whether through IVHQ or on my own) in the future.
If you are interested in learning more about Animal AWARE, volunteering, donating or adopting then please visit their website here.
If you are interested in volunteering for this amazing program through IVHQ then you can click here.
I am so happy I got to experience this, as it was truly amazing. If you are an animal lover, seriously consider volunteering at a shelter, whether abroad or local. It can be emotional and it can get dirty, but at the end of the day, it is so incredibly rewarding.