Annette Davis - 2014 Program Participant

Volunteer in Ecuador with local host family

Annette’s Ecuadorian family

What inspired you to apply for an international program?

I decided to apply for an international program because I wanted to become bilingual, my dream since high school was to become fluent in another language besides English. I had been taking Spanish classes for four years and I wanted to live in a Spanish-speaking country in order to truly learn the language. When I was in high school my family hosted two foreign-exchange students that I became very close with, and seeing how much they loved their experience living with my family made me want to have my own similar experience.

Why did you choose Volunteers for Peace?

I chose Volunteers for Peace because they are a genuine, affordable, and well-recognized organization. They provide incredible opportunities to volunteer abroad without extra fees that other programs have. They also have an incredible network of connections with other non-profit organizations around the world which was very appealing to me. It was much more meaningful to volunteer with a local organization that Volunteers for Peace connected me with than volunteering with an American program because I was able to immerse myself much more in the Ecuadorian culture.

Volunteer in Ecuador with local teens

Annette and her sisters in Quito!

What was your favorite part about volunteering in Ecuador?

I volunteered 30 minutes outside of Quito, Ecuador and there were so many amazing things about that location I couldn't name just one favorite part. It was beautifully sunny every day, with stunning views of mountains wherever you looked. The food was absolutely delicious; there were fresh fruits sold daily on the streets, some of which I had never heard of before, and the typical dishes that my host mom made for lunch and dinner were filled with unforgettably rich flavors. Lastly, the public transportation was super easy to navigate, and it only cost 25 cents to ride the bus.

What made your volunteer experience in Ecuador unique?

I volunteered in a daycare/preschool with four and five year-olds every day, and this program was unique because I had a lot of freedom as well as a lot of responsibility. The adviser that helped me become acquainted with the city where I lived was always there if I needed help, but I was not required to check in with him. I took the bus to the daycare every day on my own and once I arrived there, caring for the children gave me a lot of responsibility. I watched the kids during recess when the teachers were busy, and there was no one “in charge” of me to tell me what to do once I was there. I used my own judgement to care for the kids, and also thought of ideas on how to best teach them a little bit of English.

In this way, the program I chose gave me lots of freedom to live in and experience a foreign country, which was exactly what I wanted, but it also gave me a lot of responsibility that was a valuable experience for me.

In what ways did the local staff support you throughout your program?

When I first arrived, a staff member showed me around the city of Cumbayá, where I lived. He taught me how to catch the bus and how to pay the conductor, how to take out money, how to buy a SIM card for my cell phone, and other logistics. Throughout my program, I had a lot of freedom to do what I wanted with my host family after working at the daycare each day.

Every so often there was a trip that my adviser invited me to go on with a group of study abroad students. This trip was included with the cost of the program, and it was a wonderful way to see my adviser to talk about any issues I was having (many people had minor health problems from the foreign food and the altitude, however I had great luck and was fine throughout my whole project!), and it was an incredible way to see other parts of Ecuador. We went in a private bus to lots of tourist attractions and had an amazing time.

When it came time for me to get a visa, my adviser helped me do that as well after my three months of visitation ended. The staff of the program were always there to help me and were extremely helpful throughout my five months in Ecuador.

Volunteer in Ecuador with daycare student

One of Annette’s students from the daycare

Is there anything you wish you would have done differently?

I wish I had taught more English to my host sisters. Being in a community where so many people want to learn English made me realize how truly difficult it is to teach a language. Each day at the daycare I did my best to teach the children a few words in English, and I also tried to teach the teachers at the daycare some basic English words and phrases, but it never stuck because there was no consistency.

At home with my host family I helped my sisters with their English homework and tried to speak to them in English as much as I could, but they did not improve as much as I hoped they would. At one point I tried to teach my 14 year old host sister a little bit each day, to give her consistent mini lessons, but with each day to day schedule varying it was difficult to help her improve her English by any significant extent.

What was a typical day like as a volunteer in Ecuador?

On a typical day I woke up at 6:45 or 7 a.m. and had breakfast that my host mom prepared for me, usually some combination of bread with jam, yogurt, granola, fresh fruit, and an egg. I went to the bus stop at 7:30 a.m. and rode a very crowded bus to the daycare and got there just before 8 a.m. At the daycare I helped with the morning routine of singing songs and serving the kids a small breakfast. From 8:30 until noon I helped one of the teachers with the activities in the classroom, such as coloring, finger-painting, making puzzles, etc., and in between each activity I watched the kids play outside for recess.

A significant amount of my time at the daycare involved playing and talking with the adorable kids. At noon the kids left and after they were gone I left as well and took the bus home. I had a delicious lunch with my host family when I got home. The whole afternoon I spent with my amazing host mom and two sisters (13 and 14 years old) and sometimes we would go walking on a local trail or to the reservoir, or bake something together. My joyful host dad came home from work around 6:30 p.m. and we would chat and watch TV until dinner at around 7:30 p.m.

After dinner my sisters would do their homework and I chatted with my host parents about anything and everything until bedtime. I learned so much about Ecuador and the culture and customs from my host parents whenever I chatted with them, just sitting and talking with them was always something I thoroughly enjoyed.

What was your favorite activity outside of your volunteer work at the daycare?

My favorite activity was travelling with my host family. Every so often my host dad would borrow his friend’s car or we would take the bus and travel somewhere new in Ecuador as a family. We went to Quilotoa which is a breathtaking crater lake, we went to visit a friend near El Oriente (the rainforest), we spent a day in Quito at the parks and the artisans market, we went to “La Mitad del Mundo” (the middle of the world), and many other wonderful adventures. I always looked forward to weekends of travelling with my host family.

Volunteer teacher in Ecuador with class

Annette’s class of five-year-olds at the daycare

What was your host family’s house like? What did you like most about living with a host family?

My host family lived in a very small house of just five rooms, the kitchen, the living room, two bedrooms, and one bathroom. I had a room to myself and the whole family slept in the other bedroom. Even though the house was small, it was always extremely clean and very comfortable. The view from the house was stunning, in the day you could see the amazing mountains in all directions and at night you could see the beautiful city lights. My favorite part about the house was that the whole family would go to the big bedroom at night to watch TV together, which was really fun and wonderful for me to be a part of.

How have your experiences volunteering in Ecuador made a lasting impact on your life?

Having such an incredible experience volunteering abroad has helped me become a true global citizen, instead of solely identifying myself as a United States citizen. Having grown up in the States, my thoughts were almost in a bubble because I rarely thought about what different countries were dealing with, unless there was a big story on the news that I happened to hear about. I think that is very common of people in the States to only think about what our government is doing and what problems there are in this country right now (of course there are many exceptions and many people who follow world news).

For me, being able to live in another country for five months really allowed me to see what an Ecuadorian citizen lived like and what they thought about each day. When I came back to the states, I immediately compared the mindset I had in Ecuador, of being interested in their problems and accomplishments, to the mindset that many people here have of caring about only this country. I am more conscious now of the problems and events happening all over the world and have gotten rid of my old mindset centered only on the United States.