Health and Safety
This experience has changed me.
Submitted by Emily - | November 21, 2012
I had saved up some money and wanted to travel somewhere new in the world, but I wanted to do something more meaningful than paying to stay at a resort, etc. I thought it would be great to experience a country by working with the people who live there and by making a physical (as well as monetary) contribution to their projects.
As this was my first time volunteering, but also my first time on a big trip abroad by myself, I (along with my family) had several worries before I travelled. The main concern was the safety of the country I was visiting and of the project I was working on. Most of my other questions were rather minor such as the availability of methods to contact my family at home, how to get around in Ecuador, what the accommodations were like at the Centre, timing, etc. Kaya was very helpful and addressed all of my questions/worries. One of the Kaya coordinators told me that volunteering is probably the best way to travel solo, as you have the ability to meet new people and others in your situation. That helped me to be less nervous about going alone.
There were many highlights I would say. Just being able to see and learn about new species in the world (especially the Amazon Rainforest) was great. Specifically spending extra time with the species that were not going to be re-released into the wild (the songo songo and the coati) was very special and meaningful. I loved taking a tour of the new project site and the family’s plantations by trekking into the Amazon. They let us try different fruits they had there and it was just interesting to experience how they live and work every day. Getting to explore the nearby cities on weekends was also a fantastic cultural experience.
Lastly, one of the components of the project was to teach in the local school every other week. From what I read, soccer is a big sport in Ecuador so I decided to bring a soccer ball as a gift to the children. They absolutely loved it and were so happy! Some of the volunteers and the kids played a pick-up game and we all had a lot of fun! It was very touching to see how much this one simple gift meant to the children.
I feel lucky. Not everyone gets to have these experiences and I am very happy to be fortunate enough to have done this. I learned so much about myself and about other cultures (through the Ecuadorian people and friends visiting from other countries). I also feel awakened after this experience. I feel that my adventures have just begun and that I want to continue exploring and learning about new places in the world. I have made plans to learn new languages, as I can see how important and valuable it is to an experience and to improve yourself as an individual.
In certain ways yes, this experience has changed me. It has definitely made me more flexible as a person. When you travel and volunteer abroad, you don’t have as much control over your surroundings or what happens, so it teaches you to let go a little and just let things happen. It has made me more calm in many situations since I’ve returned home.
One thing I didn’t expect with this experience was to think differently about my career path. I participated in this project to work with animals, but what I didn’t expect was to enjoy the teaching aspect of the project as much as I did. It made me realize that I love interacting with people about things that I’m passionate about. I am now looking to transition myself into taking my knowledge of animals and the environment and using it to get people excited about getting involved and caring about the living world outside of themselves.
I would recommend that anyone considering this project actually has a genuine love or appreciation for animals. The work isn’t necessarily the most glamorous, so if you don’t truly care about the animals you may not take as much pride in your work which is only going to affect their living conditions and well-being. The main purpose of the Centre is to look after the animals and, as a volunteer, you are there to help them with this objective. You shouldn’t expect to be catered to or to be living in style.
One last thing I would fully recommend anyone participating in this project or volunteering in Ecuador to do is to learn Spanish. You don’t have to be fluent by any means, but the people really appreciate if you try and can communicate on some level. It really makes the experience that much easier and enjoyable. I went to Ecuador and to the project knowing very little Spanish, and I personally wish I would have made the effort before I came to Ecuador to learn a bit more than I did. Even if you make an effort while you’re there to pick up more is a good idea.
Travelling is all about learning new things. I have learned that although you may have expectations for a trip, it likely won’t turn out exactly the way you think it will. You may think this means your experience won’t be as great, but in reality it just means your experience will be different. You’ll learn or experience things that maybe you didn’t expect to, but they’ll mean just as much and they’ll teach you different things about the world and about yourself. This is one of the most important things I’ve learned from my experience- to learn to be flexible and to understand that you can take new (and unexpected) things away from a trip.
I personally love animals and love working with and learning about them (especially new species I have no knowledge of). I was also interested in working on a project involving the environment and conservation. Personally I was deciding between going to Africa or South America, but the project in Ecuador interested me most because it seemed to focus on improving the mental stability and well-being of the animals at the Rescue Centre.
In the mornings, you would help prepare the food for the animals and then proceed to clean the cages and provide the animals with fresh food and water. After lunch, your duties could include constructing new structures or fixing existing structures for the inside of the animal cages or helping to fix things (cages, steps, etc.) around the Centre. Some animals were also fed later in the afternoon. Every other week, the volunteers and staff would go to teach a lesson about various environmental issues to the children at the local school. This involved some brainstorming for lesson ideas by the volunteers and preparation of teaching material (drawings, posters etc.)
The daily duties are necessary to keep the Centre running smoothly and to ensure that the animals stay happy and healthy. The teaching aspect of the project is important so that the children can learn about the environment (locally and in the world) and why it is important to conserve and protect it.