Volunteering in Ecuador
Volunteering in Ecuador is completely possible, however there is some relevant information that you should know before actually making the decision of coming to the country and spending your time and energy working for a project.
The purpose of this article is to help you deciding but also to prevent you of doing the wrong choice maybe and end up scammed or frustrated rather than happy and excited with your volunteering efforts here in South America .
Helping children in need for example in a rural community or protecting the environment are just some of the very rewarding experiences you can expect to enjoy when volunteering here in Ecuador. Sharing daily life with a Ecuadorian family and having the opportunity to experience the culture, try new food every day, and learn to dance Latino music is well worth the effort.
Our main Editor from Banos the tourists mecca of Ecuador, analyses the pros and cons of Volunteering abroad.
- Things that you must know.
– Volunteering is free in almost the whole world and ideally it should stay that way. If you are being charged for volunteering in a project, NGO or foundation, etc. Chances are that you have been sold more what can be seen as a tour package, simply arranged to make it look as a real volunteering experience. I am not against it but it certainly could lead into disappointment, specially for more experienced and well seasoned travelers.
- How to join a real volunteering project.
If you are a student chances are that most colleges in your country would love to provide a letter stating your desire and interest to volunteer in Ecuador, in this case, then all you have to do is basically contact a local University and ask about their local programs, chances are there are already groups of enthusiastic young people already doing some work on the field and a couple extra hands are always welcomed.
Look on the internet for real local Ecuadorian non for profit organizations or foundations and ask to see if they can welcome you for a week or two, offer to share your research or work rather than money or promise to take lots of pictures or even videos of your work and hand them a copy. Basically here the idea is contact them and offer something based on your skills something they may be needing, think of graphic design, cooking, creative writing, community research, etc. Doing and offering this will certainly decrease your chances of being asked for money upfront. Be also specific when it comes to dates.
- Pay to volunteer, is that correct?
I’d say no, but I also understand that a lot of first time or inexperienced travelers and other formal institutions like,Schools, etc have the need of buying that sense of security from what appear as regulated providers. Most of the volunteering agencies as you can wonder are just service brokers that have set agreements with the real foundations in the field or even have spoke to the communities in order to allow basically foreigners to sit and spend time doing what they basically do any day as their typical routine. Again I am not against this practice but the more middle men involved the higher you can expect to pay when booking your volunteering experience in Ecuador.
- How and where to live?
- Most volunteering program brokers do not offer or cover the flying or airline ticket fees, and charge only for the services they have managed to work a commission on or even have set a better price in their favor. This leaves the gate open for adventurous people maybe like you, let me explain how you could do it by yourself saving a lot of money in the process. It may look difficult but it is not.
- Find and buy a good travel guide, for example The Lonely Planet for Ecuador, make sure you always buy the book for the specific country you are interested in volunteering.
- Try to come in a group of two or more people, this as a basic security measure but also because as a group you guys will be able to lower prices every time just by asking for a group discount or in the worst case work better deals on almost everything here.
- Try to learn some Spanish before coming to South America, this because most people here cant not speak any other languages apart from Spanish and local indigenous languages. I suggest you try to complete a basic level at least or better even, achieving an intermediate level of Spanish is just ideal. people is friendly and will make their best understand you every time so do not stress too much about the idiomatic barrier.
- This step is very important before your flight as soon as possible after booking your flight look on websites like booking.com or expedia.com or hostels.com and reserve a nice well rated place and book in advance or just take note or print a few addresses and e-mail them about your needs. Stay for a week or two, if you already managed to contact a local NGO in the country just let them know you will be staying in a Hostel for example for a week. Go and visit them.
- I always connect at least two organizations before going and more or less set an agreement with them on what i could do to support their work. Engage with them for one day or two and ask if you could rent a place to stay. In Ecuador or Baños for example, renting a whole two bedroom apartment, do it with the help of a local person better, should not be over 140 to 200 usd per month. Now you are independent and free to explore the whole country, free to come and go with no clock locks or a floor tapping hostess.
Find an non-profit organization that is not associated with any political or religious activity they tend to be more relaxed and you wont feel like you are being forced to do things, etc. If you already have a religion chances are you already know an organization that could help you to start volunteering quickly, if not then carry on reading and follow my advice.
- What if I decide to go with a Volunteering Agency?
well that is obviously up to you but rest assured that most of your money, money that you could freely donate directly to any project(s) you decide to support will simply stay with the brokering agency you hired.
- Are there any Honest agencies?
Yes, they exist and most of them have as main objective coordinate and support your help offered in the filed you prefer. yes they need money to survive but we have also clearly explained our point of view. Do not forget that several national associations, organizations and communities are always looking for help for carrying out their social activities.
- What projects are available?
Some volunteering projects that you could collaborate with are related to:
- Poverty and Hunger ( Mostly in towns, in the highlands)
- Education and Illiteracy (The same)
- Gender Equality ( Main cities, Quito, Guayaquil, Cuenca)
- Child Mortality and Health ( Hospitals and related)
- Nature and environment. (Amazon jungle)
- How long should I stay?
Currently accord to the Ecuadorian laws it is entirely possible for any foundation or NGO to request a Volunteer Visa with your personal and written agreement for up to two years. That is more than enough time for any of you guys to experience the Latino culture long enough to call yourself and expert after your journey. So basically you can come here with your passport as a tourist and participate in short term projects or go for long term projects that is where the real fun begins.
Summer Programs, are designed for High school or college students mainly, looking for an international experience during vacation. In fact most summer programs combine language classes and some cultural interaction also called volunteering. Some other activities, can involve social and environmental volunteer work. You can expect to stay from 2 to 6 weeks in Ecuador.
- Is Ecuador safe? What about crime?
Ecuador is a small charming country, people is very friendly but poverty is still an issue, despite this conditions, i guess because of religious beliefs mainly most people remain decent and nice, specially with foreigners. of course and same as everywhere there are exceptions to the rule, but again these are just exceptions.
- What kind of projects?
Social Projects: Helping with different social projects, involve cultural, educational and communitarian activities, ask always in advance what things and labors are you expected to accomplish as these can vary greatly from one project to other. One thing is teaching English in a poor school and the opposite working for a pro gay movement for example. Just make sure you ask beforehand on what social work involves, simply as that.
Crime rate is very low in some cities and rural towns but in the main cities despite crime is not a big concern, same safety measures as in any other big city of the world should be taken. Just in case the Police national number is 101 and 911 in the main cities of the country like, Quito or Guayaquil, expect them to arrive in around 5 to 10 minutes.
Community Projects: Working and living in a Andean or Amazon based community can be a life changing experience, a very humbling one. Also maybe not for everyone. Contributing in some way for the well being of a community is valuable but again make sure you are told in advance what work they will expect you to do and consider any physical or medical limitations beforehand.
Conservation Projects: These kind of projects are just perfect for environmental and conservation enthusiasts. You will find that working, defending and promoting environmental rights, or even planting trees can be a very rewarding experience. Conservation can also involve, animal welfare or working in aninal wildlife rescue centers, etc. A popular place but not for those with a tight budget can be the Galapagos islands, Charles Darwin Research Station
There are dozens of volunteering options divided in as many interests as you can think of but the question here is hat you love doing that will greatly benefit others?
Requesting to volunteer or joining a program will certainly help you to grow as a human being and will make your perspectives wider. Giving is receiving and is the core principle to real happiness. Professionally speaking adding this kind of certificate to your Resume will obviously enhance your personality and employers will have an instant and improved perception of who you are what you have made in the past with your free time, etc.
if you have any questions feel free to let me know I will be glad to help you forward in your next adventure here.