Former Volunteers

Our acclaimed English course would not have become what it is without our many volunteers, whose considerable talents, generosity and expertise we acknowledge with deep gratitude. To find out more about them, scroll down the chronological list and click on a name – the list stretches back nearly twenty years almost to the beginning of SMEF.


Some of our volunteers have exercised not only language-teaching skills, but musical and other talents, leaving behind and taking with them many happy memories. In addition to the comments by volunteers that you can read below, a few more extensive reports can be read on Volunteers’ Stories. If you are interested in offering your services as a volunteer, please read first the FAQs on Volunteering.

Victor Matthews

Victor Matthews
July – September 2021
Trinity College, Cambridge, reading German and Spanish

I really loved my time in Santa Maria. Teaching at the Institute was very fun and I had many adventures in my spare time. I enjoyed experiencing the different way people lives there compared to Europe. I hope I can return soon.

Ruby Morris

March – August 2021
Queens’ College, Cambridge, reading Spanish and French
While this opportunity seemed daunting, in a far-away place which was full of unknowns, I am incredibly grateful that I decided to take the leap and get on the plane to Paraguay. The past six months have been thoroughly rewarding, and I have picked up plenty of practical experience and self-confidence, not only in teaching and speaking Spanish, but in other unexpected activities like kickboxing and motorbiking! Most importantly, I felt genuinely happy in Santa Maria, thanks to the people who welcomed me with more warmth and kindness than I could have imagined. I can’t wait to be back again.

Michelle Grace

March – July 2021
Durham, reading Politics, Sociology and Spanish

I thoroughly enjoyed teaching and found myself looking forward to seeing my students each day. It is a fun and rewarding job which still allows for plenty of free time to pursue other hobbies, socialise and travel. This placement was also the best thing I could have done to improve my Spanish. Besides being with the other volunteers, I was speaking Spanish almost constantly. This proved incredibly beneficial for both my ability and confidence in using the language, but also meant that along the way I picked up some unique Paraguayan ways of speaking – many of which I look forward to using in my final year of uni!

Hector O'Neill

March – July 2021
Magdalene College, Cambridge, reading Spanish and French

I have absolutely loved my time in Santa Maria. I really enjoyed the teaching (and increasingly so as my placement went on) and was most (pleasantly) surprised by how welcoming and warm the town is: Paraguayans generally, and Santa Marians in particular, are incredibly friendly in comparison to us cold Europeans. I have made friendships in Santa Maria that I will cherish for a long time and already (hours after leaving) miss my host family and friends. I couldn’t recommend SMEF enough!

Jenny Torres

February – March 2020

Jenny came with English-teaching experience in both the UK and Colombia. However, unfortunately, her time here was abruptly cut short due to the Covid crisis.

Jacob Buckton

December 2019 – March 2020
Downing College, Cambridge, reading Spanish and German

“I had such a great time teaching at the Institute. For me it had a perfect mix of relaxed yet ambitious – classes were pretty informal and flexible, giving lots of opportunities to be creative, but students were also driven by the desire to pass the Cambridge exams, and progress to a more advanced level. I was overwhelmed by the warmth and generosity of many people I met, and especially loved my class of 8-12 year olds, many of whom would turn up a whole hour early to their class every day just to have a chat, sing songs or tell me some Guaraní legends.”

Geoffrey Robinson-Kronrod

July – December 2019
Oriel College, Oxford, reading Spanish and Linguistics

“Teaching for the Santa Maria Education Fund has been both rewarding and educative. Due to the wide age range of students, teaching for the Santa Maria Education Fund provides an excellent opportunity to practise different educational techniques in addition to an ability to teach and explore a wide range of topics related to the English language. Santa María, with its friendly people, strong social support base, and welcoming environment, is a wonderful place to experience the culture of Paraguay, and offers a unique setting in which to learn and improve both Spanish and Guaraní in a truly immersive environment.”

Luke Procter

July – December 2019
Durham, reading Spanish and Economics

“In Santa María I was able to meet wonderful people, and soon made friends here that I’m sure I will always have, and who made me feel truly included and immersed in Paraguayan life. My family were lovely, helping me settle in and making me feel a part of their home. The Institute was great too, as it allowed me to have and plan my own classes with keen and friendly students, as well as offer a perfect balance between work and everything else I wanted to do in Santa María. My Spanish was able to improve so much here, and there were also many opportunities to travel around Paraguay. I feel so lucky to have this community of friends on the other side of the world and would highly recommend this experience.”

Hannah Hartley

May – September 2019
Durham, reading Spanish and French

“I can’t believe how quickly time has gone! I have never felt so at home and so welcome as in Santa María. Paraguay has a very special place in my heart and I will be back as soon as I can.”

Connor Rowlett

February – June 2019
Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, reading Spanish and French

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Santa María. I am so glad I chose to come here and I leave feeling like I’ve truly grown personally. I got on well with my classes and found immense satisfaction in seeing their level of English improve over the months – this was particularly the case with my beginners’ classes which I took from scratch to a secure basic foundation of English. Although there have been challenges along the way, they are what make this experience so character-building. I would absolutely recommend this to anyone looking for an adventure – and I’d love to be back to visit someday myself.”

Jake Manton

February – June 2019
Hertford College, Oxford, reading Spanish and French

“My time in Santa María has been a blast and has absolutely flown by. I will always have happy memories of my family, friends and students here. The teaching keeps you busy during the week and you feel like you’re making a difference, but this placement is so much more than that. Playing 5-a-side in one of the canchas, going up to the cerro and soaking up the view, trying (and not always enjoying) some of Paraguay’s more obscure culinary ‘delights’, floundering in an attempt to pronounce that Guarani expression, just sitting and chatting over tereré or a beer… it’s a wonderful little town in a captivating country. I’ve got absolutely zero regrets about coming here and hope to be back soon!”

Charlotte Stacey

February 2019; May – June 2019
Royal Veterinary College

“Although my stays in Santa Maria were short, I found it a wonderfully friendly and welcoming town. There is plenty of opportunity to practice Spanish as everyone is so kind and easy to chat to.  Teaching English was a very rewarding and enjoyable experience, as all the students are so keen to learn.  There are also opportunities to explore Paraguay at the weekends (such as the city of Encarnación, pictured), which always proved a lot of fun! I look forward to returning to Santa Maria one day soon.”

Nina Ludekens

July – December 2018
St Catherine’s College, Oxford, reading Spanish & French

“Living in a small town in rural Paraguay allowed me to really get to know people and to feel part of the community. Everyone knows everyone, and people are happy to welcome you as a friend. It was the perfect opportunity to improve my Spanish because I was one few English speakers in the town, so was really immersed in the Spanish language and spoke it for hours every day. The teaching is hard work but incredibly rewarding; you teach each class every day and so get to know your students well and have the opportunity to really make a difference. I highly recommend this experience for anyone keen to teach English, improve their Spanish and experience the culture of Paraguay.”

Miriam Eyre

January – July 2018
St Andrew’s, reading English and Spanish

“I’ve had a great time in Santa Maria, and I think in many ways it’s the perfect year abroad placement; living with a host family, having real responsibilities as an English teacher and getting the chance to make friends with the warm and friendly people who live there, all of which constantly improves your Spanish. I never expected to make such good friendships and I am definitely going to miss seeing them every day.”

Isabel Caddy

January – June 2018
UCL, reading French and Spanish

“Santa María is such a special community and I feel so lucky to have been part of it. It has been amazing to be accepted so warmly by all the wonderful people and witness the difference the Institute makes to so many people’s lives. I’ll never forget the amazing experiences and all the great friends I made there.”

Alexia Xydias

January – July 2018
Bath, reading Spanish and Russian

“I’m so glad that I chose to volunteer at SMEF for my year abroad placement. Being a part of such an amazing organisation and working alongside Sarah and Margaret was more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. I’m so thankful to everyone in Santa María for this once in a lifetime experience and I look forward to returning in the future.”

Spencer Bard

May 2017- April 2018

Peace Corps Volunteer who taught English for SMEF

“I have scarcely felt so loved and welcomed at any point in my life as I did during my time in Santa María. Peace Corps Volunteers have sufficient agency to help our communities in whatever way we can and I will be forever grateful to SMEF, Sarah, Margaret, and the other volunteers for allowing me to be part of such a transformative initiative. My only regret is that I wasn’t able to stay longer.”

Anna Pitts

August – December 2017
UCL, reading French and Spanish

“Santa María as a town and its people will always hold precious memories for me. The volunteering experience taught me patience, gave me confidence, improved my Spanish, and created friendships. Paraguay as a country I found to be very beautiful and untouched. The culture reflected that too, and I miss it every day since saying goodbye.”

Michael Milligan

August – December 2017
retired teacher
“What an experience! The institute has outstanding, supportive leadership. This is a unique opportunity to make a contribution to the world while hanging out with friendly laid-back people. Being in Santa María is like turning back the clock to a time when everybody knew his neighbours and nobody was a stranger. “

Iona Brandt

July – December 2017
Bristol, reading Spanish
As a volunteer at the Institute I did not feel as though I was giving up my time because I loved helping bright, motivated and kind students to improve their English and I also felt like they helped me hugely; I was able to develop my teaching skills, improve my Spanish and gain confidence in myself. My time in Paraguay shaped who I am today and I will always be thankful to SMEF and the people of Santa Maria de Fe.

Mary Newman

July – September 2017
UCL, reading Spanish and Latin American Studies

“The hardest thing about teaching in Santa María was leaving! It was an incredible experience getting to know my students, seeing them improve and generally being there to support them. Paraguay was the cherry-on-top of my year abroad and I encourage anyone who’s looking for a new challenge to try it out.”

Jennifer Beckner

July 2016 – August 2017; and August 2018
came after graduating in Neuroscience and Spanish from Michigan State University. Went on to a Masters in Public Health Administration and Latin American Studies.
“The people of Paraguay, and especially of Santa Maria, are so friendly and accepting that even as someone who tends to be shy at first, I felt immediately welcome. I can’t count the number of times that friends and students invited me to eat in their homes, took me to festivals and other places in their beautiful country, or helped me with all kinds of favours, big and small.”

Elsa Maishman

March – July 2017
Emmanuel College, Cambridge, reading French and Spanish
“Throwing myself into my classes meant I found teaching in Santa Maria more rewarding – both for the students and myself – than I could possibly have imagined.”

Ellie Hill

February – July 2017
Bristol, reading Italian and Spanish
“It was a real pleasure to make meaningful connections with the people in Santa Maria. You see your students every day so you really get to know them, and living with a local family was great both for language practice and to make friends for life. It is a lovely town and lovely organisation.”

James Woodley

January – March 2017
UCL, reading Spanish and German

“Verbal communication has been the key element during my time here in Paraguay and this opportunity has allowed me to get my feet wet as far as the growth of my spoken Spanish is concerned. The village locals are quaint yet lively, and given their garrulous nature are willing to talk about absolutely anything at any time.”

Jacob Pratt

Aug – Nov 2016
came after graduating in Chemistry from St Catherine’s, Oxford.
“The teaching is great fun and it’s been a fantastic experience to have full control of the lessons. You’re not an assistant here, you’re the teacher. What’s more, the students are enthusiastic, and the line between student and friend is a fluid one.”

Laura Day

July – Oct 2016; July – August 2018;
Queen’s College Oxford, reading Spanish & French
also taught French
“I found the responsibility of overseeing my classes daunting at first, but that feeling gave way to pure enjoyment faster than I could have imagined. The students made me feel completely at ease. Living with a local family has been a joy.”

Laura volunteered again in 2018.  She spent two months with us before returning to Oxford to finish her degree in Spanish and French.

Jessica Honey

Feb – Aug 2016
came in her gap year before studying English Literature at the University of East Anglia.
“It’s amazing to see the real difference SMEF makes in the lives of young Paraguayans. I would recommend anyone who wants to teach, improve their Spanish and make new friends to come to Santa María. I definitely want to come back!”

Danielle Craig

Feb – Jun 2016
came after graduating in French and Russian from Clare College, Cambridge. Went on to a Masters in Russian.
“The students are lovely and it’s a great place to practise your Spanish. You also have the opportunity to organise other activities according to your interests – I had a harp lesson each week and taught French and recorder as well as English.”

Isobel Foxford

Sep – Nov 2015
Lady Margaret Hall Oxford, reading Spanish and Portuguese
also taught piano and recorder
“It is a great place to volunteer because you can quickly become a part of the community, everyone is very welcoming and living with a family is a really good way to practice your Spanish. Because the classes are free, the institute relies on volunteers to teach so your job really is worthwhile.”

Brittany Roberts

June – Sep 2015
Merton College Oxford, reading Spanish and Russian
“I thought Santa Maria was a really beautiful place and came to love the relaxed pace of life – spending hours drinking terere and sitting in the garden; maybe watching the sunset was one of my favourite pastimes!”

Caitlin Ross

Mar – Sep 2015
Bristol University, reading Spanish and French
“Considering I moved to the other side of the world, I could not have felt more at home after just 6 months living in Paraguay and my time there will be a fond memory I cherish for the rest of my life.”

Sarah Peyton Jones

Feb – Aug 2015
Worcester College Oxford, reading Spanish and German
also taught German, piano and recorder
“I was involved in church activities, learnt folk dancing and traditional songs, embroidered with the women in the artisan workshop, went camping with students, learnt some Guarani and visited nearby towns and spent many a happy hour drinking terere with friends.”

Peter Kay

Jan – June 2015
Bristol University, reading Spanish and French
“Your students become your best friends and everyone is so welcoming. Margaret especially is always happy to help, and it’s inspiring to see how involved the foundation is in the life in the village.”

Beth Doherty

Sep 2014 – Jan 2015

Communications Director to Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference

also taught a singing workshop, piano, and a painting workshop which did a mural in Santa María.

Zoe Carswell

July-Sep 2014
Bath University, reading Spanish and Italian:
“I had an amazing time in Paraguay and can’t wait to return. Out of all the travelling I have done, teaching in Santa Maria has been the most valuable to me in many ways.”

Jenny R

July-Sep 2014
Hertford College Oxford, reading Spanish and French

also taught French in Santa María

now in France teaching for the British Council.

See Volunteers’ Stories

Elena Pavan

June-Aug 2014 and July 2016
gap year, then Manchester University, reading Linguistics

also taught Italian in Santa María:

“The teaching is challenging but great fun and everyone welcomes you with open arms. I would highly recommend going to Santa María to anyone who wishes to experience a place that is rich in culture and has a lot to offer.”

Rebecca Beattie

May-June 2014

Keble College Oxford, reading Spanish and French

Julia Smyers

Feb-Sep 2014
James Madison University USA, completing MA in Teaching:

“I still think fondly of Paraguay practically every day! I miss being in Paraguay a lot!!!”

Eleanor Redpath

Jan-July 2014
Durham University, reading Spanish and Philosophy:
“Santa María is a beautiful place. I loved living with my host family, getting to know my students (who quickly became my friends), spending time drinking tereré, having family asados and being able to explore Paraguay and neighbouring countries.”

Phoebe Balkin

Oct 2013-Jan 2014
Peace Corps volunteer who taught children’s English for SMEF

went on to do a Masters in Health Economics in Galway, Ireland:
“Working with such welcoming and high energy kids was fantastic. I loved how my students were excited to see me outside the classroom as well as in it, calling, Profe! to me in the streets with smiles.”

Floris ten Nijenhuis

Oct-Dec 2013
Exeter College Oxford, reading Spanish and Portuguese

also taught Italian in Santa María:
“Santa Maria is a relaxed and friendly town, where everybody knows you after one week and makes you feel included. When I wasn’t teaching I spent most of my time in Santa Maria paying football with the locals which lead to making lots of friendships, some of which I have kept up since I left. Paraguay in general is incredibly cheap.”

Florence Batten Turner

July-Sep 2013
Bristol University, reading Spanish and French:
“I really loved living with a host family; cooking asado with them on Sundays, drinking tereré in the garden on hot afternoons, talking and walking around the village in the evenings. I learnt how to make chipa, I milked a cow and I drove a motorbike. Although perhaps now it is quite a cliché, as everybody who comes to Santa María seems to say this when they leave, it is true that I really hope to come back one day.”

Danny Rees

May-Sep 2013
St Anne’s College Oxford, reading Spanish and French

also taught French in Santa María

went on to do Teach First:
“You don’t have to make any effort to speak Spanish as everyone is so welcoming and will chat to you. Making friends with Spanish speakers is the year-abroader’s dream and it’s so, so easy, inevitable really, here. I was in France doing British Council and only made two there.”

Suzie Hance

Feb-July 2013
Bath University, reading Spanish and Italian
also taught singing and Italian in Santa María.
See Volunteers’ Stories

Rosa Pritchard

Sep 2012-Jan 2013
St Peter’s College Oxford, reading Spanish and Portuguese:
“Being a teacher for SMEF gives you a lot more responsibility than most other year abroad posts, but that has made it challenging and stimulating. It has been incredibly rewarding, sometimes challenging but almost always fun.”

Jessica Hull

Sep 2012- Feb 2103
Cardiff University, reading Spanish and English literature

Fiona Maxwell

July-Aug 2012
Nottingham University, reading Spanish with French and German

Madeline Lawrence Jones

Apr-Aug 2012
Magdalene College Cambridge, reading Spanish and Ancient Greek

Claudio Bollani

Feb-July 2012
Durham University, reading Spanish and Russian

also taught Italian and Music theory

went on to apply for jobs in orchestras:
“My favourite memories were of performing “Gabriel’s Oboe” with the Sonidos de la Tierra orchestra, and travelling to Tierra del Fuego.”

Diana Browne

Jan 2012-Apr 2013
Peace Corps volunteer who taught children’s English for SMEF

Stephen Dunne

Sep 2011-Jan 2012
St Peter’s College Oxford, reading Spanish and Portuguese, also taught Portuguese in Santa María.  Went on to become a Civil Servant (and Treasurer of the Fund):
“I taught some of the brightest and keenest students for the five months I was in Santa María, and it was great to watch them progress. I taught the cursillo too, a riotous class for absolute beginners with about 50 people in it – great fun! I also took up harp classes (it’s not easy!) and had the good fortune of being in Santa María during watermelon harvesting season – a source of constant joy!”

Ben Quarshie

Sep 2011-Mar 2012
Kings College Cambridge, reading Spanish and German

went on to do an MPhil on Latin American Literature, Visual Arts and Cultural Studies)

See Volunteers’ Stories

Anthony Parham

May – Sep 2011
Balliol College Oxford, reading Spanish and Italian
also taught Italian in Santa María
went on to do Teach First

Jenny Shaw

April-Sep 2011
Kings College Cambridge, reading Spanish and French
also taught French and Latin in Santa María:
“The teaching institute is well-known in the area, such that the pupils feel extremely honoured to come to class and were therefore always eager to learn. This made teaching a pleasure, rather than a chore. All in all, I found it a really unique volunteering experience, far-removed from the tourist trail.”

Mark Nixson

Jan- July 2011
Churchill College Cambridge, reading Spanish and French
also taught French and Latin in Santa María
See Volunteers’ Stories

Kiel Mathews

Aug-Dec 2010
United Faculty of Theology Melbourne, reading Theology

Sarah Clarkson

July 2010-Feb 2011
Durham University, reading Spanish and Latin
went on become a Maths teacher in Asunción:
“The work which SMEF does is hugely worthwhile as you will see how, through the work of SMEF, young people have developed skills and how, crucially, these are skills which have helped many of them gain employment. It is a project which fits the needs of the community, rather than imposing a view from the outside upon Santa María.”

Alice Gimblett

Jan-June 2010
Brasenose College Oxford, reading Spanish and English
See Volunteers’ Stories

Dorota Sakwerda

Jan-June 2010
St Johns College Oxford, reading Spanish and French
also taught French in Santa María

Emily Yue

Dec 2009-Jan 2010
came as a volunteer with the Company of Mary Our Lady in her gap year before Cardiff University

Anne-Marie Kalas

Dec 2009-Jan 2010
came as a volunteer with the Company of Mary Our Lady in her gap year before returning to Australia

Gabriela Bryson

Oct-Dec 2009
came in her gap year before Northumbria University Newcastle to read Spanish with Business:
“From teaching English classes, visiting the Iguazú falls to riding horses on an estancia, my three months were packed full of amazing experiences. I will never forget the friendly people, red sandy roads and the incredible lightning and thunder storms of such a tropical country. The work Margaret and the SMEF charity do is inspiring and gives locals and ‘us tourists’ amazing life-changing opportunities.”

Richard Coombs

Sep 2009-Feb 2010
Downing College Cambridge, reading Spanish and French

Nicola Hands

Jan-June 2009
Jesus College Cambridge, reading Spanish and French
went on to run a street child project in Morocco, and to do a Masters in oboe playing
also taught French and Recorder in Santa María

Fiona Melville

Nov-Dec 2008
mature student of Spanish at Christ Church Oxford
now teaches Spanish from home, runs a bed and breakfast and helps look after her son’s horses:
“I felt that I received so much more than I gave and I’m sure that most volunteers would feel the same way. It was a very rewarding and humbling experience.”

Chloe P

Sep 2008-March 2009
Exeter University, reading Spanish and French
went on to become an interpreter

Roz Tarry

Aug-Sep 2008
principal examiner for PET Writing, Cambridge ESOL:
“Santa María was a very important experience for me, where I learnt much more than I gave. My host Mum was fantastic!”

Scott Hall

July-Aug 2008
St John’s College Cambridge, reading Spanish and French
went on to work in Export/International Sales:
“I look back fondly on my time in Santa María, and the friends I made there – a heart-warming, enriching, challenging experience which will stay with me forever. The work of Margaret and her team is extremely admirable – making such a difference to the lives of this caring, unassuming and wholly indefatigable community.”

Robert Goldstein

July-Aug 2008
Gonville and Caius College Cambridge, reading Spanish and French

Tom Wroe

June-Sep 2007
Leeds University, reading Spanish
went on to become a private tutor and TEFL tutor and hiphop DJ,  and to live in Valladolid:
“I will never forget the red earth of the streets in Santa María, and the cows roaming freely in the streets, a world apart from life as I know it. I have fond memories of fiendish games of foot-volley with some of my students and the hard earned pilsner and chatter afterwards.”

Tim Follett

March-May 2007
Pembroke College Oxford, reading history
went on to become a solicitor in Lincoln’s Inn Fields:
“I look back on my time in Paraguay with many fond memories. Santa Maria will always be very special to me. I see Luis quite regularly. Strange how our friendship has continued across continents – and how he is now a very well regarded chef at one of the trendiest restaurants in London!”

Michael Orman

Feb-April 2007
primary school teacher
went on to marry Paraguayan Fabiana, whom he had first met on Iona

Lisa Kiernan

Sep 2006-Aug2007
Wadham College Oxford, came after graduating in Spanish and French
went on to do a Masters in Internatonal Relations/Economics at John Hopkins University, Maryland

Mollie Iggulden

five visits between July 2006 and Nov 2010
retired social worker who had taken part in another English teaching project in Paraguay in 2003-4:
“I have many happy memories of my time in Santa Maria and gained so much from the friendship of the students, the family I stayed with and everyone with whom I came into contact. Now I value the times when the student who has been to Iona come to visit me each year and so renew the ties with Santa Maria.”

Katy Hardman de Palacios

Sep 2005-July 2006
came in gap year before York University, to read Spanish and Biology
went on to marry Paraguayan Luis (in photo), and to do Teach First, now Deputy Head of Science, Kingsmead Academy, Enfield

Nathan Lubetkin

Peace Corps volunteer who taught English for SMEF
went on to marry another Peace Corps volunteer and to teach English in Buenos Aires, now back in USA:

“I’m very happy to see that some of my original students have continued with their studies and recently passed high level Cambridge exams. I now live in Seattle with Helen and we have two young sons who are studying Spanish and hope to visit Paraguay one day.”

Benedict Hebblethwaite

June-Sep 2002-2007
Liverpool University, Hispanic Studies
went on to become an English teacher in Asunción:
“The town of Santa María has helped to shape the person I am today. The welcoming nature of the locals, the idyllic tranquillity of the town itself, and strong working relationships and friendships made with students help make living a real pleasure. In terms of lifestyle and culture, it really is a world away, even from capital city Asuncion – where I now live. It will always hold a special place in my heart.”