Constructing Your Life Project

Jacqueline MacLellan learned how to speak Spanish with her grandmother. The two studied the language together and then practiced it on family trips to Mexico. This lead to a deep love of Latin America and its culture, and ultimately compelled Jacqueline to volunteer with Cuso International.

Upon graduation from university with a degree in Sociology, Jacqueline wasn’t sure what to do next. She was interested in Social Work and wanted to gain work experience so she accepted a six-week volunteer job in Lima. While the work was meaningful, the placement was not as fulfilling as Jacqueline would have liked. She realized she wasn’t interested in “volun-tourism” and decided to tackle a longer volunteer opportunity. The only problem was that she wasn’t sure where to start!

Jacqueline confessed her desire to return overseas to her swim coach. “My coach’s mom volunteered for Cuso International and had great things to say about the organization,” says Jacqueline. “So I applied.”

Before long, Jacqueline was in La Paz, Bolivia, eager to start her placement as a Gender Advisor with the Centre for Youth Employment. Jacqueline was responsible for the Constructing Your Life Project workshop program. Designed for youth between the ages of 15 and 30, this empowering workshop taught women how to set life goals and make a plan to achieve them, building their self-esteem along the way.

The workshops were held at the Centre and in partner organizations that worked with a variety of demographics. Jacqueline visited homes for victims of trafficking and girls who were in trouble with the law and forged strong connections with the girls. “They made incredible progress,” Jacqueline remembers.

Inspired by her love of language, Jacqueline offered to teach English at the Centre. One of her students brought her son to class every day for two months. The woman worked hard and told Jacqueline that she wanted to be a better mother for her little boy. It was clear to Jacqueline that she was a wonderful mom and Jacqueline wanted to help her student see what she saw. “I suggested she ask her son what he thought of her,” Jacqueline says. “She did and he told her that she was the best mother in the entire world.” The woman’s eyes filled with happy tears as her son wrapped his arms around her. “That’s when I realized I could make a difference in someone’s life,” says Jacqueline.

After her six month placement, Jacqueline returned to Canada feeling more confident and independent. Along with her memories and new-found friends, Jacqueline brought back a strong sense of direction and a career to pursue. Today, Jacqueline is a few months away from completing the intensive International Development program at Humber College. She hopes to work for a Non-Government Organization on Latin American projects focused on youth.

The smallest action can make the biggest difference. When Jacqueline MacLellan decided to volunteer with Cuso International, she took the first step on a path toward personal and professional fulfillment.

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