Archive for the ‘Volunteer Package’ Category
My time in Ecuador was a mixture of excitement, sadness, education, and cultural intrigue. My Spanish was only barely passable when I arrived in Quito, and would remain a constant source of anxiety as I travelled throughout South America. My host and the organizer of my volunteer experience, Wlady Ortiz, was generous and accommodating despite his very busy work schedule, and routinely opens his house to travellers from all over the world. I had heard about sketchy and disreputable volunteer agencies in Ecuador before, so it was a relief to meet someone who had also done quite a bit of travelling and was very down-to-earth in his endeavour to supply a volunteering experience that was not only far cheaper than many of the competing agencies, but also offered very distinctive opportunities. My first volunteering experience was at the Zanjaranjuno Animal Rescue Center where I met Lucero, an extremely kind and caring woman who worked with the many displaced or endangered animals they had at their establishment. Although she only spoke Spanish, she spoke clearly and softly, and used her hands to try to convey herself, which helped with my transition into a country that didn’t speak English as its first language.
THE ANIMAL RESCUE CENTER
In the animal rescue center, after our daily feeding of the many parrots (including Loca, the old and extremely talkative resident), tortugas, pigs, and Anastasia (a tayra), Lucero would find other tasks for us to do, whether it was helping with the development of a trail , or creating signs to further awareness about the effects of poaching. Life at the center was rustic, but the charm of it was meeting other people, who quickly became as close as family. I became good friends with Finn and Amy, an English couple, Lida and Stefan from the Nederlands, an American girl named Jade, and Caroline, who was also from the UK. After we were finished work, and when it was raining (which was a lot, and hard), we always had to find ways to occupy ourselves, whether it was copious card games, new experimental cuisines, or cozying up in a bunk bed to watch a movie.
It was a valuable experience because living with other volunteers immediately gave you a circle, so I never felt particularly lonely, and it was interesting to learn about other cultures. Later on I would even meet Caroline and her boyfriend in Peru, and then again in Bolivia!
VOLUNTEERING IN MINDO
The second place I went to was Mindo, a small little community based in the Ecuadorian Cloud Forest. My host, Hugolino, owned a vast orchid garden (upwards of 300 different varieties) and was happy to teach me about some of the rarer and more bizarre specimens. He also ran a system of zip-lines further up the mountain, and I would often spend time there helping them with tourists. Hugolino was also an avid bird enthusiast, and would be hired out by foreigners to go bird-watching, so one day I got to tag along – it was uncanny, how he was able to pick out the shape of a bird deep in the jungle that none of us could see until we used binoculars or a telescope. The most exciting leg of the journey was trying to catch a glimpse of the rare quetzal bird, famous for its long green and red plumage.
VOLUNTEERING IN THE ANDES
The third and last place I volunteered at was Nizag, a Quechua village, where I got to stay in a newly built and furnished ‘guest house’ all to myself, and learned about the daily life of a Quechua man or woman. Every morning a new member of the family would come to get me, and I would tag along for most of the day, watching what they did and helping out when I could, whether that entailed digging and planting seeds, taking care of animals, cooking and helping out in the kitchen, or entertaining youngsters. This was, in some ways, the best and worst part of my experience – on one hand, it was fascinating to be so fully immersed in another culture, and the opportunity to learn Spanish was amazing since (aside from Quechua, which was their main language) no one spoke any English. To see how a community could be totally self-sufficient, and the cooperation and closeness of the bonds they shared with each other, was a valuable lesson that I’m still learning from, and hope to bring into my own community in some way. But it was also the first time I realized how little some people have – it is easy to feel insulated, living in a first world country like Canada, from the effects of poverty and the general standard of living that most of the rest of the world experiences. And yet, the children were always smiling and bright eyed (perhaps a little cautious) and very curious. I would be walking down narrow streets and a small girl would follow behind me, playfully, and then run forward and hold onto my hand. Everyone was extremely kind, and in spite of their simple living, were always generous. On more than one occasion I was invited to other people’s houses where we would drink home-made cana, or sugar-cane alcohol, while they questioned me vigorously about my country.
I was a little melancholy when I finished my volunteering, but I felt like I had a better grasp not only of the language and culture of the Ecuadorian people, but of my own life and the direction and way in which I live it. I was amazed at the strength of people’s relationships, how the emphasis on ‘family’ was such a core value and in contrast to the social dynamic of my own North American culture. Living and learning from people who still had a very real attachment and connection to the land they existed in opened my eyes to a glimpse of how to behave and interact with my own environment, and they are lessons I hope to pass onto my own family and friends. Needless to say, my whole Ecuadorian experience was transformative, and I hope to go back there some day. I feel lucky to have gotten to know all the volunteers, and to have gotten to know Wlady and his city.
Here is the final testimonial by Matt Jeffries on his 9 weeks at 3 volunteer programs in Ecuador, this time on one of Ecuadors many beautiful beaches in the north of the nation while helping to reforest Ecuadors endangered mangrove ecosystems.
We arrived on this island on the Ecuadorian coast not quite knowing what to expect and as soon as we arrived it was clear there was a relaxed atmosphere, interesting surroundings and many surprises ahead.
Upon arrival in Fundecol’s office we were explained the purpose of the organization and the huge amount of paperwork involving laws required for administrators while the volunteers get their hands dirty helping out with the reforestation of mangroves.
We did a variety of tasks, occasionally visiting the mangroves whereby wellies / gumboots were needed as you were up to your knees in thick mud, but a great atmosphere as the group planted seeds to regenerate the area and support future marine life, before taking a refreshing boat ride back to the island.
We also took part in a ‘Minga’ basically a project where the community got together and in this case we picked up litter and built structures so that when people use bin-bags and put them out, it meant that they didn’t get washed away as they could place them on the structures.
There was a real buzz about this particular project and it felt refreshing that the structures were outside our house so we could see that we were making a change. Finally there was a lot of cocoa plantation, we planted seeds in the soil bags, delivered 1000′s to various houses and communities around the area and in one particular community we helped out planting the cocoa plants and building structures around them to protect them from things such as animals and children, once again building and protecting for the future of these communities.
All of this with a nearby beautiful beach where you could pop along with any spare time and have a drink or play football against the locals or even go for a swim (watch out for little jellyfish, nothing too lethal just small stings). There was also various batido huts who produced fresh batido’s from fresh fruit on the island, with sammy’s hut producing particularly tasty well made batido’s and him singing a bit of bob marley was a sound to behold also.
There is something about this island that draws you in, the people are very friendly, the beach is beautiful and everywhere you look people are being creative, for example the children making kites out of a plastic bag, some reed canes and a roll of string. An amazing experience and highly recommendable.
Here is Carol from the Netherlands testimonial after spending three months volunteering in the Andes and the Jungle of Ecuador on one of our Volunteer Packages
I worked 3 months for Ecuador Eco Volunteer, in 3 different projects. The first project was in the jungle near Puyo, volunteering at an animal rescue center. The people there know only some words in English so it was direct a good practice for my Spanish. I was picked up by the owner at the bus station in Puyo. The refuge is in de middle of nowhere so we needed to do shopping’s for a whole week first.
The centre had several animals; parrots, caimans, peccaries, turtles and a paca. And there are also some half wild animals like a tapir and several species of monkeys. 2 Weeks my work was helping with cooking and cleaning because there where big groups of students there. And 2 weeks we worked on a new stair to the turtles. And some days we went looking for the tapir, to see if it was still ok. These were some very nice jungle trips! I also liked the cooking because I learned some typical Ecuadorian meals.
The next month I worked in an orchid garden, also in Puyo. I stayed in the house of the family. The family was very nice. The owner is a special man, with a great love for nature. He created a little forest near the city with beautiful orchids and many plants and trees that are used by the people in the jungle. I learned a lot about orchid pollination and the eatable, medicinal and other useful plants. I gave tours to ingles speaking tourist, planted a lot of seeds, replanted trees, put new sawdust on the walking paths and I made a start for posters for the new museum.
My last month I got to Volunteered in Mindo, a beautiful, small and save town in the middle of a lot of nature. Here I also worked in an orchid garden. I helped with the orchids, labeling them, cleaning them and I cleaned the paths and helped when there were tourists. Also I helped with working at the canopy lines. The family was really friendly and again I learned a lot more about orchids, but also about birds, because the owner is also a great bird guide and in the garden are many hummingbirds!
Wlady and the Ecuador Eco Volunteer organization arranged everything very well. He always helped me how to get to the places, and made sure I was picked up. Although I used many weekend to discover more of Ecuador I was always welcome in his house! I was even welcome to celebrate new-year with him and his family!
All this moths I learned a lot and had a great time!