Archive for the ‘Volunteer Experiences’ Category
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.
Zack from Bellingham in the US who is interning with us at the moment wrote this report from his latest trip to Puñay:
A night on Puñay
Last weekend I was able to go along on a 2 day trek as an assistant guide. The journey took us to the top of an ancient pyramid constructed in the shape of a giant macaw and has only recently been discovered. It’s known as the “Lost Pyramid of Puñay” and at 3,300m, even though it’s only a 2 or 3 hour hike, can be difficult if you aren’t acclimatized.
We took a couple from England and a girl from Germany on a 2 hour bus ride south where were picked up by a truck that took us to the base of the mountain/pyramid. I wasn’t expecting the temperature to be so warm, I rolled up my pants and was down to a T-shirt, yet was still sweating before we even began the ascent. We left the camping equipment at the base to be packed on a donkey that would carry it to the top, and we began to slowly make our way up the steep and narrow trail.
The combination of the elevation and the heat began taking effect on one of the hikers and she needed to rest frequently, but still pushed on and conquered Puñay like a champ. On the way up, there are great views of the surrounding hillsides as we passed through varied vegetation, including; thick grass, bamboo, bushes, wildflowers, and pointy aloe-type plants.
At one point I looked up to see Mike running back down the trail towards me looking quite concerned. We were on some narrow switchbacks and it turns out that 2 donkeys were running down the trail towards us. We somewhat frantically scrambled up the hill into the bushes to get out of their way since they weren’t about to slow down.
As we rounded the summit of the pyramid we could see that there were already a few tents set up and a small group of guys hanging out, some from Ireland and some from Ecuador. We laid out in the sun and rested while we waited for the donkey to arrive.
Once it did, we prepared a spaghetti dinner which took our entire group to protect it from the group of hungry dogs that had come to beg and take any opportunity to snatch our food.
Shortly after, there was a magnificent sunset that turned the sea of clouds below us into all shades of yellow, orange, and red. Once the sun disappeared, the temperature dropped dramatically and we were all layering up and scooting closer to the smoky fire that the other group had started up.
The sky above was completely clear and littered with thousands of stars, all so bright that it was hard to pick out constellations. We saw numerous satellites making their way across the sky in their orbital paths and could distinctly see the hazy streak of the Milky Way galaxy. Looking down the hill we could see the lights of various small towns below.
The fire was made of dry grass and a few small pieces of wood. Around it, people were playing instruments and singing. A local was mixing up some San Pedro cactus mixture to share with us. It’s named after Saint Peter since he is known for holding the keys to heaven and the cactus supposedly gives people a sense of experiencing heaven through an altered, psychoactive state of mind. The amount of the bitter concoction that we had, less than a shot, wasn’t enough to have any effect, but still cool to try the sacred drink that’s used by Shaman throughout the Andes.
It was getting colder and my sleeping bag was calling me from the tent as my eyes were burning from the smoke of the fire, so I decided to call it a night. The next morning we were up around 8 for breakfast, and then started packing the gear in our packs since there would be no donkey assisting us for the descent. I ended up carrying all of my own gear as well as 2 tents and the groups’ food for the rest of the day. The 2 hour hike down was killer on the legs but well worth it for a chance to get out of Riobamba for a bit and see some great views from the top of the “Lost Pyramid of Puñay”.
By Zach Schaarshmidt
one of our interns from western washington university
Inca Trail – Ecuador
I had the opportunity to go along on Ecuador Eco Adventure’s Ingapirca Trek on the Inca Trail as an assistant guide. It was a great 3 day trek with 16 elder Aussies. We took a private bus ride up to the high Andean village of Acchupallas where we hired locals to pack most of our gear on donkeys and horses for the trek. The hike took us up through the village, past curious children, through fields of crops, and eventually up into the Andean Paramo (alpine tundra). We camped near a stream of fresh mountain water, set up camp and shared trekking experiences from around the world while dinner was prepared. The combination of being on the equator and being far from any electric lights made for an incredible view of the stars and the Milky Way’s hazy streak across the night sky.
Day 2 we began our ascent towards the high Andean pass which would take us towards Ingapirca. We rested near lakes and lagoons and were told stories of the area, both historical and legendary. After hours of hiking through beautiful scenery and gaining significant elevation, we reached the pass at ~4,500 m (~14,700ft). It was quite cold and windy so we began the descent down the other side. Before long we were shedding layers and as the temperature increased, so did the vegetation. There were numerous types of alpine wildflowers along the trail. We crossed a few streams and stopped at ancient Tambo ruin, a rest stop for Incan messengers and warriors along the trail. A little further on, we made camp to rest for the night.
Day 3 we started the final stretch of our journey early in the morning in order to reach the ruins of Ingapirca by midday. It was a long trek, but not too difficult and we passed through a small town along the way, eventually arriving at the ruins. We took a tour through the remnants of the impressive Incan stonework where our indigenous guide explained the history of the ancient town and temple. We then thanked and said goodbye to our friends who took care of the pack animals and guided us along the trek. A few hours on the bus and we were back in Riobamba. It was my first trek in Ecuador and certainly a great experience.
Mt. Chimborazo (6,310m/20,700ft) is an impressive peak just north of Riobamba, visible from my window on a clear day. Due to its’ location on the equatorial bulge, the summit is the furthest point of land from the center of the earth. I read about Chimborazo in a mountain climbing book while home in Washington state and thought it would be amazing to at least attempt to make the summit.
Last weekend I was part of a small group that went to climb it. Our international crew, representing the United States, Australia, Great Brittan, Slovakia, and Ecuador, was taken up to the first Refuge at the base of Chimborazo. We carried our gear up the path to the second Refuge at 5,000m/16,400ft where we had tea and dinner before getting a few hours of sleep before the climb. Up at 10 pm for “breakfast”, we then packed up our gear for the ascent and headed out into the cold night. Equipped with headlamps and lead by our certified guides, we made our way up to the snowline where we stopped to put on crampons and get roped up for the rest of the climb.
It was a steep and strenuous climb through snow, ice, and crumbling rock, averaging a 45 degree incline. The temperatures were cold enough to freeze the water in my bottle, yet we often had to stop and shed a layer or two in order to keep from overheating. After numerous hours of climbing up the mountain, our 3 separate rope teams managed to increase in distance from each other. The altitude began to take effect on some people and breathing became quite difficult. By the time my rope team reached ~5,800m/19,000ft, I was noticing that we were moving quite slowly. The headlamps from the rope team ahead of us were quite distant as well as those of the rope team below us who had already turned around and were headed back down.
I was feeling a little frustrated that we weren’t going to make it, since this may be the only chance I get, but it was out of my control and everyone had put in a good effort. Shortly after, we made the decision to head back down. The decent was as treacherous, if not more so, than the ascent and quite an energy drainer. The one remaining rope team of 3 continued up the mountain and reached the summit, saw the sunrise, amazing views and returned back down to the Refuge by late morning.
I am very glad to have had the opportunity to attempt to climb to the closest point of land to the sun and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in mountain climbing. Because of its’ high elevation, it is quite important to take some time to acclimatize and get in shape before heading up to big ‘Ole Chimbo, humbling mountain of the Andes.