How to Find an Effective Volunteer Position in Ecuador

by Megan Lee

Feeling drawn to the land that straddles the equator and the home of evolution? Take your heart for travel and do some good with it: not only are we here to help you find cool volunteer programs in Ecuador, but we want to make sure that the work you do there isn't wasted. 

Whether you want to build homes, teach English, or work with animals (finger monkeys, anyone?): read on for tips and advice on how to maximize your impact in Ecuador on a short term volunteer program.

Volunteer with children in Ecuador

Who’s in charge of the program?

Generally speaking, the most effective programs are run by locals, for locals. Native people understand the longstanding cultural complexities that bubble up as contemporary social issues -- not only do they understand the needs, they understand how to meet them. Major thumbs up to organizations that hire locals in their operations, as working alongside these warriors will give you a much more immersive cultural experience. 

Remember: a "bottom up" org always trumps a "top down" one. Make sure there is a substantial Ecuadorian presence on the organization's "About Us" page.

How did you find your Ecuador volunteer program?

Keep in mind your underlying goals for traveling south to volunteer: to help those in need and give back to the community. Rather than focusing on what skills you bring to the table and asking an organization to utilize them, look for a need that you can meet. While it's important to have a grasp of what skills and educational experiences you'll gain with what you'd personally like to do, focus more on a "How can I help you?" approach. 

Look for what an organization wants / needs and honestly assess if you're capable of helping them out or not. That being said, don't be afraid to volunteer other skills (your singing voice is just what the kids need!) or suggest improvements/new ideas once you've scoped out the situation.

Cityscape of Quito, Ecuador

What comprises the program offerings?

Volunteer programs that have a travel itinerary and move around every week or so tend to be more focused on the experience for the volunteers, rather than the effectiveness of their service. If you’re hoping to make a real, positive impact on a few people a long-term stay on one project is the best way to proceed. If an organization has more emphasis on "play" than "work," red flags are waving left and right. In order to be effective in your volunteer experience, you need to ensure you're supporting organizations that are likewise committed to effective, sustainable, and positive change for the people it aims to help.

How many volunteers does the program usually take?

This one's a toughie. On the one hand, organizations that host many volunteers tend to have their programs down pat -- they have projects outlined, goals to be met, and the entire package working like a well-running machine. While you might feel like you are having a greater impact with a program of this design, you might also be falling victim to the commodification of voluntourism and the potential for an organization to be taking advantage of tourist's dollars rather than staying committed to community needs.

On the flip side, if you choose an organization that is a little more all-over-the-place, where things run less smoothly, and it's not unheard of for details to be overlooked, you might have a greater impact (they clearly need extra hands!) but its disorganization might be a drag.

It's important to be extremely careful to ensure any organization is ready to work with you. Make sure to communicate so they understand how long you will be in the community and how much work you would like to take on. 
School in Manta, Ecuador

How much do you know about the organization?

It's up to you to take the responsibility of researching any given program seriously. Read alumni reviews on GoAbroad, talk with past participants, and keep an open mind before settling on any-one project in any-one community. Seek to acquire as much information as possible about an organization and their relationships with Ecuadorians. Try to find examples of projects or work done in the past to ensure it fits your skills set. Ask yourself if it's realistic that an untrained foreigner could contribute substantially to a project. If so, go for it.

Oft-chosen (and well-vetted) program options in Ecuador include IVHQ, Love Volunteers, and Volunteering Solutions.

There you have it!

Armed with research, the wisdom of past travelers, and your sensibility, your search for an effective and impactful short-term volunteer program in Ecuador is no longer a gargantuan or seemingly impossible task. Follow your heart, be open to the many lessons of your trip, and jot down your thoughts and experiences as you go. Trabajar duro!