Health and Safety
Do it! It’s normal to have concerns...
Submitted by Rohan Soni - | November 19, 2012
I wanted to go to South America as I wanted to brush up on my Spanish, which I have largely forgotten since I learnt it at school! Peru and Ecuador sounded like really diverse countries with a lot to see, and I was intrigued by Belize because of it’s British colonial past and combination of Caribbean and Latin American culture.
I chose to volunteer as I wanted to do something more meaningful than just travelling as a tourist. Volunteering allows you to get closer to the local people, their cultures and customs, and see how they really live. It’s also a great way to make lasting friendships.
I really enjoyed all the projects, especially as I had the opportunity to try a variety of completely different things. I was fortunate enough to work with incredible people in all three projects and made friends who I’m sure I will keep it touch with. But the most gratifying thing was seeing the difference that the projects are making, and knowing that my effort was worthwhile.
Did you have any worries before you left?
Yes – as I’ve never done anything like this before and didn’t know what to expect, no matter how much research I did. Some of my concerns were sensible (What if I miss my flight? Did I pack enough clothes?), and others less important (Will there be hot water?). But once I arrived and got settled in I soon forgot them – there’s so much to do and you’re so busy you don’t have any time to worry!
It would be impossible to come back from an experience like this and not be changed. Seeing how people live in most of the world has given me a new appreciation of how fortunate we are compared to others. I had the opportunity to meet some truly inspirational people while working on the projects which has encouraged me to reconsider my options for the future, and hopefully do something to make a positive difference.
What would you say to others thinking of volunteering?
Do it! It’s normal to have concerns (I did) but there aren’t many problems you can’t solve with a quick phone call or a few carefully chosen words from a phrase book. I can’t adequately describe the experience, but I can say that I’m already planning my next adventure – once you get bitten by the travel bug you can’t stop!
In Peru, I worked on the Animal Rescue Sanctuary project. As well as feeding and cleaning the animals, I helped to build new enclosures. I also showed tourists around the sanctuary to educate them about the importance of the conservation work.
I volunteered on the Fair Trade and Agroforestry Internship in the Amazon Rainforest, which is a fair-trade tea producer, in Ecuador. I worked in their charitable foundation and was involved in two projects. The first was an Economics project to find out the cost to a farmer of growing the tea, to ensure the price paid is fair. The second was to conduct surveys in the communities to find out what problems people face. This information would then be presented to a committee of farmers, who would decide how to spend a fund set aside for community development.
My final project was in Belize, where I helped to construct a sustainable home and organic farm for orphans, who are forced to leave the state-run system at age 16. The aim of the project is to provide a stable home and allow them to concentrate on studying or gaining skills for employment. I helped to build the roof which was really hard work in the hot sun, but rewarding to know that I have left something physical behind.
I was surprised at how friendly the people are and how easy it is to have a conversation with total strangers – this takes some getting used to when you live in London! I also picked up Spanish much quicker than I expected as everyone is really patient and willing to help as long as you make an effort.
There were so many – including visiting Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca in Peru. But the absolute highlight has to be my visit to the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. The animals have no fear of humans and instead will come up to investigate tourists, making it a great destination for anyone interested in photography. Seeing firsthand the clues which led Darwin to his famous discovery was fascinating and it was amazing to learn that some of the tortoises which were around to greet him on his arrival are still alive today.
They were very different experiences. Whereas volunteering allowed me to stay in one place and really get to know a single community and make friends there, travelling round allowed me to get an overall flavour of the country and experience the diversity of different places. For example, in Belize I was based in the West in a largely Spanish speaking area near the Guatemalan border, but I also travelled to the Cayes (islands off the coast to the East), which has a Caribbean feel. It was interesting to see how different these places were, despite being only 70 miles apart.
The sign up process was really straightforward and I was given lots of help and advice as I was planning my trip. I was also given help choosing the projects, as I wanted to do something related to my skills and experience.