Experience Ecuador: A Volunteer’s Insight
On the IVHQ Ecuador program volunteers have the opportunity to give back on one of six meaningful projects. Danielle Nelson volunteered supporting children that work in the streets and markets, selling goods and performing with their parents. This is her experience…
Living in Quito for over two months was the journey of a lifetime. It not only introduced me to my passion for teaching and helping other people, but that feeling of making such a large impact through the Street Children Work project is a feeling I have yet to match since returning to the United States. Although every day provided a new and unique challenge, the structure of most days was the same throughout my time in Ecuador. A typical weekday looked like this:
|Volunteering in Ecuador: AM to PM|
|7:00am – Wake up, take a cold shower (you get used to it) and dress in your official volunteer shirt. Breakfast was always simple, but I could also buy extra cheese or eggs to add to the fruit and bread my wonderful host family provided.|
|9:00am – Arrive at the local team office, where you prep for the day, and get your assignments, depending on the location and what project we were working on.|
|9:30am – Jump on the bus to the location. You have help from other volunteers and the local team coordinators on how to get there.|
|10:00am – It’s set up time. We had a set park for each day, so you’d get used to knowing what to do once you had been there a few times. Some members of the team would go pick up children from their parents who were normally selling goods in nearby markets.|
|10:00am – 1:30pm - Work with the children on art, books, and games. Then, for the last part of class you do the learning activity for the week. After the activity, you walk them back to their parents. You either stay for the afternoon session, or go back to the local team office for Spanish lessons.|
|3:00pm – Spanish lesson with a one-on-one tutor. I came with little Spanish skills, so doing this daily helped me work with the children in a more effective way.|
|6:00pm – Head home, where dinner was already prepared by my host mom. The family I stayed with owned a small restaurant below our house. Before or after dinner, I often went down to help them peel potatoes or clean up before eating my meal with the rest of the family who weren’t working.|
|8:00pm – Normally, I was in bed with a good book or practicing my Spanish.|
International Volunteer HQ has been working with the local team in Ecuador since 2008. The NGO organization that runs the Street Children project created their first program in 2003, and has since grown to incorporate, not only the Street Children project, but also the complementary Summer project and School Support projects. IVHQ volunteers may also participate on the NGO Support project, which provides the opportunity to work directly with this organization, assisting with their day-to-day operations, campaigns, and fundraising initiatives. Read: How I Spent My Vacation Working with an NGO in Ecuador, for more insight.
The primary goals of the Street Children project are to reduce their working hours in the marketplaces, to assist with the transmission of academic and social skills, including nutrition and hygiene awareness, to ensure that children are provided medical care if needed, and to ultimately assist with the formal enrollment of children into school. Once successfully enrolled into formal education, the NGO continues to track their progress and support families behind-the-scenes, to avoid drop-out and help ensure completion of primary and secondary studies, at least.
The IVHQ Ecuador program offers start dates every Monday, which is always the orientation day for new volunteers to the program. Volunteering is therefore held Tuesday through Friday. For volunteers who are participating for more than one week, the weekends are always Saturday through Monday. Over the weekends I often travelled to different areas in Ecuador, or explored Quito.
In Your Free Time:
With Quito being a central hub for many things you would want to do in Ecuador, it was a great jumping off point. For instance, one weekend was spent in Mindo with my fellow volunteers. A tiny town with a breathtaking setting surrounded on all sides by steep mountains, Mindo is somewhat of a backpacker paradise. Located just two hours from Quito, you can see everything from a butterfly sanctuary to chocolate factory. A unique slice of peace and quiet close to bustling Quito.
Another place we visited a few times was to Baños, where we could leave on a Saturday afternoon and spend the next two days picking and choosing the best outdoor activities to do that weekend. We often chose two: zip lining and whitewater rafting. I had never tried either activity at home in the United States, but felt completely safe branching out of my comfort zone and doing them in Baños with new friends. We were experiencing these adventures together. It was both bonding and extremely empowering.
If exploring Quito for the weekend, which I often did, I would take the bus for a mere US$0.25 from my homestay, and head down to the center of the city to walk the busy streets, explore the Presidential Palace, or eat at delicious food vendors. It was both relaxing and invigorating to be so close to “home” but experiencing something so far out of my normal life. I will never forget these moments exploring the city and practicing my Spanish with the friendly locals.
- At the beginning of every week the NGO leadership team explain the activities that the volunteers will do for each age group.
- Long term volunteers have the opportunity to change it up and work with different age groups over a number of weeks
- Punctuality is important when you meet at the local team office in the morning
- You’ll all wear matching t-shirts (provided at the program orientation), which lets people know you are part of the NGO, who have a well-established relationship and history within the south Quito community
- The staff offices and volunteer accommodation (home-stays/volunteer house) are all within reasonable walking distance of each other.
- Probably the longest that volunteers have to walk each morning, from their accommodation to the staff offices, is about 15-20 minutes
- You’ll also be within walking distance of a large local mall, which offers a cinema (there are some movie showings in English with Spanish subtitles), food courts, a supermarket, and other shopping
- Volunteers can expect to work full days on this project, unless also taking Spanish language lessons (which are an excellent addition to the volunteer program and can be signed up for at the program orientation)
- Come prepared to… sing, dance, laugh, get your clothes dirty, play games, learn some Spanish, and explore Ecuador over long weekends
When I returned from this trip to South America, I realized I had discovered the true, tangible passion I had all along for worldwide education. Discovering this notion has completely shifted my life. Volunteering has helped me (and I hope it helps you) find the things that drive me; those things that made my heart beat faster with excitement, and kept me up at night. I know I can now talk, write, and share the importance of worldwide education for days. I hope when you get home from your trip, your shift in perspective might help you realize what you are truly meant to do in this world.