Fiona Heaney from Wicklow reflects on her years placement with the Red Box Project in 2012/2013.

This past year was full of adventure, as I volunteered for eleven months with SAMS as a Red Box volunteer in Salta, Argentina, and Bermejo, Bolivia. When I headed off on the plane, I had no idea what a journey I was going on, how much I would be stretched and challenged, and how much I would learn and grow.

How do I sum up my time in South America? It was packed full of highs and lows, fears and expectations, the pains of minor set-backs and the joys of small victories, stumbling attempts at picking up the language, incredible weather, fantastic food, encounters with vibrant and inspiring people, hospitality that I had never experienced before, friendships that I didn’t think possible, the love of new found family, and the heartbreak of saying goodbye. I was pushed (sometimes reluctantly!) to do things I didn’t think I was capable of, and as a result I have so many stories that I never thought I would be telling. If I learnt one thing from my time away, it is that nothing is impossible, and no challenge is too great when you bring it to God. But I didn’t just learn one thing – the Red Box Project exposed me to such a range of culture, in both Argentina and Bolivia, and put me into the path of a wide variety of people.

I had the opportunity of living with and working alongside Cecilia, the project coordinator with teenage girls in the prison outreach project, and teaching English students of all ages and abilities. I had the privilege of being welcomed into the local church and serving alongside them and being involved in the youth and children’s ministry.

The Red Box taught me the importance of relationship, of allowing yourself to be impacted by other people and of reaching out to others even if all you have to offer is a kind word and a smile. Everyone has a story to tell, and everyone has time to tell it, if you have the time to listen.

I have come back from South America impacted and inspired, both by experiencing the hard work that Cecilia and her team faithfully carry out, and from the time spent and shared with so many people. I know this will remain with me for many years to come. Now that I’m back in cold and rainy Ireland, there are many days I miss South America, the warmth of the sun, and the warmth of the people.