This means 100% of the financial contribution that volunteers pay will go to the organization or community where they volunteer (a radical concept, isn’t it?) Ecuador Eco Volunteer will no longer process volunteer applications or receive any financial benefit from being the largest website of its kind in the country.
After building this project from the ground up for the last few years Ecuador Eco Volunteer has finally grown and matured to the point where it can work without me or any other middle man – it’s time to let her walk on her own.
This is my gift to Ecuador, the country that has given me so much back in return :)
Why Ecuador Eco Volunteer is Changing Course
It has been no secret to the volunteers we have received that Ecuador Eco Volunteer has been racked with internal problems recently – in an effort to bring a little transparency to these problems I attempted to describe what was happening and what we were doing to resolve the problems in the post Ecuador Eco Volunteer Problems
Unfortunately it became clear to me (with special thanks to the very honest feedback from Rick Jordan and Yohsuke Amano) that this little volunteer organization had become a victim of its own success – as we grew we began to operate in the same financially oriented way as many other large Voluntourism Companies – the bottom line became more important than impact on the ground.
We became the very thing I used to criticize on this blog and elsewhere mere years ago.
I have spent the last few years using my background in IT and Search Engine Optimization to launch this website from obscurity to the number one ranking site for various keyword phrases such as “volunteer ecuador” on Google. Consequently Ecuador Eco Volunteer receives 100′s of hits and several emails per day from idealistic and good natured souls from around the world who wish to volunteer in this beautiful country.
But the problems with too much tourism and volunteers are manifold:
- If too many volunteers are packed into a program the division of work becomes less and less until the program is nothing more than an exotic babysitting gig for herds of bored backpackers.
- Communities come to have an unhealthy dependence on the economic incentives of hosting volunteers. The damage this causes deserves an entire post on its own.
- NGO’s begin to place innovation second place to cash, they become lazy.
transparency note: The volunteer fees have always been divided so that 69% of the payment went to the NGO or community and 31% to the office and staff to keep this social enterprise sustainable.
In the past I received $30 from the $50 administration fee from every volunteer and worked as a mountain guide and web designer on the side to increment my income. Since January however i’ve had to refund volunteers who had paid for the disastrous Galapagos program that I setup (and shutdown soon later) out of my own pocket.
The years I have spent on this project has not earned me a fraction of what i’d earn in Australia as an SEO tech – but the ride has enriched my life in ways that i’ll never be able to put a pricetag on and i’m forever grateful for that.
The former programs in the Animal Rescue Center and Indigenous Communities are still available on another website although I am no longer involved. These are great programs and many of the problems mentioned above should be resolved because their new site will not receive as many visitors as the original.
I just hope the current administrators continue to update the transparency graphs without my constant encouragement and treat the volunteers with the respect they deserve – which means actually listening to them when they say something is wrong and learning from mistakes. Other than that I wish them the very best of luck.
Designed by Volunteers for Volunteers
The heading above was the slogan I originally coined for Ecuador Eco Volunteer and to make it more than just a marketing catch-cry I implemented a Volunteer Surveys System with the help of Jennifer Kim. Unfortunately it was very difficult to take on any of these suggestions because of the competing visions in management.
Once the process of making money for a Volunteer Organization has been refined and systemized the organization becomes rigid with its ability to change and scale its impact.
Creating change on the ground however is never linear and requires constant measurement, experimentation, and fine tuning, as well as an open dialog with stakeholder communities coupled with their direct involvement in the change process.
Now ecuadorecovolunteer.org no longer needs to worry about its financial bottom line to stay sustainable its programs can be chosen in terms of impact.
And to make Ecuador Eco Volunteer the first crowdsourced volunteer organization on the continent and true to its catch-cry of “Designed By Volunteers For Volunteers” I need your help to find the best programs in the country to work with.
If you recommend a special cause, project, or volunteer organization in Ecuador then check out the Suggest a Program page for more details.
Welcome the Omaere Ethnobotanical Park in Puyo
The first volunteer program chosen in terms of impact instead of financial viability is a very special conservation and environmental awareness project that works hand in hand with indigenous Achuar communities in the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Volunteers will be hosted in the Omaere Ethnobotanical Park in Puyo.
There are more special programs in the pipeline so stay tuned.
In the past we have used this time of year to review our achievements and milestones but this year in the name of transparency i’d like to bring to light some of the problems or growing pains we’ve been having and are trying to resolve.
As most of you who read this blog know the amazing Jennifer Kim has returned to the US and until her replacement Sam Bale from Switzerland arrives on January 3rd its been hard to cope with all the workload.
Until then we thank you for your patience and promise we’ll be working our asses off to resolve some of these issues. Below is a list of some of these problems and the ways we are going to try and resolve them.
The Tyranny of Distance
Ecuador is a small country which makes it easier than most to traverse from its Coast to Amazonian border. While some of our volunteer programs are easy to check on regularly, revise, and improve other more remote programs are almost impossible to keep an eye on.
This means we have to have trust that the community or group of people we work with on the other side of the country are acting in the best of faith and living up to their obligations. Unfortunately this is not always the case and our trust in the past has been misplaced and we are forced to close the program.
An example of one of the volunteer programs we have closed this year is the Marine Life Rescue Center. After scouting out programs on the coast we discovered a great little community based organization that rescued sea-life before rehabilitating and releasing them. It seemed like our amazing Animal Rescue Center but on the coast.
We explained to them what Ecuador Eco Volunteer is all about, how we can send volunteers that will help provide manpower and much needed funds to the organization.
They showed us where the volunteers can stay, the fridge and kitchen, and the tasks they will be required to do, and made many more promises. It seemed like the perfect partnership until a few months later we find out that the volunteers are doing very little, the sea-life wasn’t being released, and they had even removed the fridge!
Right now there is another program that because of the tyranny of distance is suffering the same fate. We have refunded everyone who has booked this program in 2013 and unless the program is able to be salvaged fast it will be cut.
Volunteer Program Lifecycle
If a volunteer program is successful does that mean it should run forever? I guess that depends on the program. The Animal Rescue Center and the original Mangrove Reforestation program were our first two programs we’ve worked with since the beginning.
Earlier this year we had to stop sending volunteers to the NGO that ran the Coastline Conservation program because of complaints that there was nothing to do and that the organizers didn’t seem interested in anything but the money.
This was hard for us to understand why a volunteer program that previously had such RAVE REVIEWS had turned to shit.
We sent Jeniffer on a 12 hour bus journey to Muisne to find out what was happening and see if the volunteer program could be salvaged and returned to its former glory. The new management took in all of her ideas, said how they were going to lift their game, and we sent more volunteers and they didn’t even pick them up at the station or have living quarters arranged for them.
We then closed this Coastline Conservation Program which was quite unfortunate because it was a great program supporting an incredibly vulnerable ecosystem. Fortunately Jennifer found another great program on the coast on Isla Corazon
How We Are Resolving These Problems
Once Sam arrives and the administration workload can be more evenly distributed we will have time to tackle these problems head on. Sam and I will be visiting many of the volunteer programs and forming a plan of attack to improve
Managing Volunteer Expectations
We are working on making the description of every volunteer program as accurate as possible to ensure volunteers know what they should expect. At times this is hard because I will write a description that I believe is accurate from my perspective but from others its not.
In the Animal Rescue Center for example there was a percentage of volunteers that believed they would be with the animals 100% of the time, even though this is inhibitive of their rehabilitation. To resolve this I sat down and talked with Lucero who runs the center and she helped me write this post: Animal Rescue Center Volunteer Expectations.
Increasing Volunteer Support
There are a number of ways we are working on increasing our Volunteer Support to make volunteers feel they have a safety net under them in case anything happens. In the new year when Sams here he will have a work phone topped up with credit to answer and resolve any problems volunteers may have.
Also, for those of you who have signed up in the last month and onwards you will be receiving an 18 page “ECUADOR ORIENTATION PACK” full of detailed and specific travel and health advice to prepare you for your adventure in Ecuador. I worked on this booklet for months and none of the information in it has been copied from the Lonely Planet or Internet, its all my personal advice after backpacking South America for 5 years. I hope you enjoy it.
Via the Anonymous Volunteer Surveys we are able to gauge exactly what you think of the program and how it should be improved (if you answer it, that is!)
We send out a load of Volunteer Surveys to all of the volunteers that have finished their program every three months. It asks questions like: a) Was the description of the volunteer program accurate, b) what didn’t you like about the program, c) what do you recommend to improve the program, and a tonne of other questions.
By helping us answer this survey you will be helping us enormously in improving our volunteer programs and the change we are able to facilitate, with your help, in Ecuador.
Here is to an amazing 2013!
Ecuador Eco Volunteer is now working with Kingdom Kichwa Hostel Quito.
The reason we have decided to work with this hostel in Quito is because we think its important to support and promote Ecuadors indigenous people.
This is not only true with our many volunteer programs but also for our ecotourism trips which help secure an alternative source of income for indigenous families and communities.
Kingdom Kichwa Guesthouse
Kingdom Kichwa Guesthouse will give you a taste of that authentic Kichwa Hospitality in the middle of Quitos Mariscal or “Gringolandia” – the cities nightlife and restaurant district.
The features and services offered at Kingdom Kichwa House include:
- friendly welcoming atmosphere
- fully equipped kitchen
- beer garden out back
- chillout area with fireplace
- comfortable beds
- super fast wifi
- hot showers
The hostel is also located close to the Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores making it the perfect place if you are extending your tourist visa.
I am living in the hostel at the moment which means I can give newly arrived volunteers a detailed heads up about their upcoming volunteer experience with us.
If you have emailed or volunteered with Ecuador Eco Volunteer over the last year then you have most probably spoke to or met Jennifer Kim from Boston, Massachusetts.
If you have contacted us over a year ago before Jennifers time at Ecuador Eco Volunteer then you would have noticed how much less organized than we are now.
In short, Jennifer revolutionized our little organization by implementing systems to keep track of everything, modernized our ancient book keeping system and calender, scouted out new programs around Ecuador and finally helped us to implement Volunteer Surveys that we will be using to bring a professional level of quality control into our programs.
In the US Jennifer previously worked in the Social Sector, on jobs that included being a councillor for pregnant and parenting teenage mums who were victims of domestic violence. She also worked as a midwifes assistant for women who have no network amongst family or friends and supervised at a transitional employment program for people who been recently discharged from incarceration.
With all that experience working on challenging jobs that help make the world a better place we were extremely grateful to have her here in Ecuador. She goes back home to the states next week and we are going to miss her!
Please be patient with us during this transition period for Ecuador Eco Volunteer – Wladys wife has given birth to a boy and until Sam from Switzerland comes to replace Jennifer in January we might not be as quick to answer emails as before.
But fortunately I have just moved to Quito which means I will be able to meet most of the Volunteers personally as soon as they touch down in Ecuador.
After three years of absence Ecuadors famous Nariz del Diablo train has finally returned to Riobamba!
Here you can check out the routes as well as the Train Timetable and Prices
It has taken years and billions of dollars to renovate the old train tracks designed at the turn of the 19th century for steam engines.
Unfortunately being able to ride on the roof of the train, one of the biggest drawcards for tourists, is no longer possible with the new modern carriages. The reason may be due to why the Nariz del Diablo train closed down in the first place: the deaths of two Japanese tourists whose heads were accidentally severed when some thoughtless dumbass installed a cable over the train tracks.
The interesting thing about the inauguration was that the governor of Chimborazo Province gave the speech instead of the mayor of Riobamba, Juan Salazar, who is widely perceived as corrupt. This sparked a rumour that Juan Salazar is “quemado” or “burnt” and other politicians now consider it to be a liability to associate with him as well as the belief he may be removed from power soon.
This is fantastic news for the people of Riobamba who believe the mayor has plundered the city for too long, and it gives kudos to the innovative social media campaign against him called Caos en Riobamba Sr. Salazar.