How two volunteers use education to change the world

This week, in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, we talked to two volunteers with E-VEN: Valle Narciso Cayama, Education & Pedagogy Coordinator, and Erika Zoppi, Coordinator of Public Relations, about their experiences teaching English in rural Venezuelan communities, why they love what they do, and how education can change the world.

Q: How did you start volunteering with E-VEN?

Valle Narciso Cayama: I learned about E-VEN from a friend in college who said it was the perfect job for me since it involved most of the things I love – teaching, traveling and conservation. I applied to volunteer the same day and have been volunteering for two years.

Erika Zoppi: I was participating in the Harvard National Model United Nations, where the founders of E-VEN presented. Despite competing against each other, all Venezuelans were proud E-VEN won the competition. After hearing so much about the mission of the organization, I fell in love with it and wanted to be part of it.

Q: Why do you believe E-VEN’s work is important?

VC: Education is the most powerful tool we can use to change the world. An important part of the process of teaching and learning is understanding the communities and the people we work with. Through this we craft a highly responsive curriculum to address the particular issues that affect said groups.

EZ: We are the only NGO in Venezuela targeting education in difficult access communities in with high tourism potential. We all admire the beauty of communities such as Los Roques, Apartaderos and Canaima but often fail to understand the challenges that prevent them from developing sustainably.

Q: What is one thing you’ve learned through volunteering with E-VEN?

VC: The importance of teachability. Admitting you are learning doesn't lessen from who you are or your leadership, it demonstrates to others that it is ok to admit you don't know something. It creates a safe space for learners and a positive teaching environment for educators.

EZ: To believe in yourself and not be afraid to take risks. Before going to Los Roques as a volunteer, I didn’t know what to expect and was afraid that maybe I wasn’t fit to be a teacher. However, I came to realize that I had all the necessary training to do it and that I just had to believe that I could and take advantage of the experience.

Q: What’s your favourite memory from being a volunteer teacher?

VC: During one trip to Los Roques, we had no electricity for four days. Life at the archipelago was losing its charm, with the mosquitoes at night and extreme heat during the day. As I was heading to school one afternoon a student approached me and gave me the biggest hug ever! I asked how she was doing, and she responded that while she was struggling too with not having power, she still was fine because “my English classes and my teachers make bad days turn into great days.”

Q: What is one thing you want other people to know about E-VEN?

EZ: I want people to know what we have achieved since 2019: from 11 to 58 volunteers, from 60 to 90 kids enrolled, from 0 to 30 adults enrolled, we have grown so much. 70% of our students scored a high level of competence in their final exam, we were able to assure continuous and quality education during the pandemic and we are expanding our work to other communities. I couldn’t be prouder of our team, and I’m sure that we will achieve a lot more in the future.