Chelsea Nelson - 2016 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad? 

A desire to see a new part of the world, while simultaneously helping others; the perfect combo!

Why did you choose IVHQ?

The time, location, scope of the project, and ease of travel created the perfect opportunity to choose this program.

Volunteer with children in Quito, Ecuador
Group activities

What was your favorite part about Ecuador? 

The people. Hands down, the people were warm, welcoming, fun, and eager to share their knowledge and experience. Every individual we interacted with was so kind and loving, despite the language barrier.

What made your experience abroad unique?

The work we were able to do was the most inspiring and transformative. Helping children in the market learn hygiene habits and basic skills without sharing their language was the most inspiring thing I've participated in. It proved that love and laughter transcend all cultural and language barriers.

How difficult was it to communicate with locals?

It wasn't very difficult, but at times took a translator or some creative ideas on how to pantomime what we needed or wanted to ask. This actually broke down any prior tension with the humor these scenarios tended to bring. Going back, we'll brush up heavily on our Spanish to better interact though.

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

We'd have family breakfast in the volunteer house, which was always a perfect start to the day. Once finished, we'd walk to the program headquarters, receive the day's plan, pack up the items for the market, and catch a bus to whichever market we'd work at for the day. Once there, we'd gather children and hang out/teach them hygiene and school practices, then break for lunch usually at a local, delicious spot.

After lunch, we'd repeat the morning routine of hygiene and education, sometimes with new children, and sometimes with the same children from the morning. At the end of the day, we'd pack up, take a bus to the office, then either head out as a group for dinner and fun or go home to the volunteer house for dinner and fun. Perfect day.

Ecuadorian child washing her hands
Hygiene lesson

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

A large apartment style house for volunteers and locals alike. My husband and I shared a room, which was modest, but had everything we needed. We shared two bathrooms in the house and the kitchen. It was plenty of room and the shared spaces were great for hanging out together as a large group. The location was great too, since it was only a 10 minute walk to stores, bus stops, and the program headquarters that we worked with.

How did the local staff support you throughout your program?

They were quick to provide any answers to our questions; usually before we even asked the questions. Aside from that, the team was with us every step of the way if we were unsure. When we were comfortable with more autonomy, they provided that as well. They truly listened to our needs and hopes for what to gain from the experience.

How did you spend your free time?

Getting to know the other volunteers from around the world. Whether at a restaurant, bar, or the volunteer house, it was a perfect blend of meeting new people, learning about cultures, and still getting to see remote parts of the city and country.

What surprised you most about Ecuador?

How kind, open, and appreciative the locals were. Everywhere we went, we were greeted with a smile and warm welcome.

Volunteer saying goodbye to kids in Quito, Ecuador
Saying goodbyes

What is one thing you wish you would have known before volunteering abroad?

To bring additional items to leave with the appropriate individuals for donation purposes. Had I known we were able to donate physical goods of our own, I would have packed and left much more.

Do you have any packing tips for volunteers headed to Ecuador?

Pack only your essentials and find out what your housing offers or doesn't offer so you can be prepared. You'll likely forget about the importance of a cute outfit when you're volunteering outside in the rugged heat with dozens of children climbing on you and laughing. It becomes about so much more than material items, so free yourself of many of those when packing!

Is there anything you wish you would have done differently?

Stayed longer. Traveling around the country would have been more feasible if we'd stayed another weekend or two. Aside from that, I would've also liked to be fluent in Spanish to better communicate with the locals.

What was the hardest part about volunteering abroad?

The most difficult aspect of volunteering abroad was leaving. We'd made such great friendships in such a short amount of time that it was challenging to leave so soon. 

How has volunteering abroad in Ecuador impacted your life?

It was a small struggle coming home and seeing the waste and "problems" we discuss here on the homefront. It has made me greatly appreciative of how fortunate I am in this life. I've seriously thought about my concerns before voicing them now, knowing that they're mere complaints, rather than problems. Because of my time abroad, I have a renewed appreciation and sense of gratitude for life.

Volunteer giving an Ecuadorian a stuffed animal
Meet and greets

What do you feel the biggest benefit of volunteering abroad is?

Volunteering abroad opens your mind to ideas, places, thoughts, and experiences you never knew existed. The more open you are to all of these, the more rewarding your experience.

Would you recommend your program to others? Why? 

Hands down, without a doubt, I'd recommend it. As cliche as it sounds, it was a life changing time and I've gained friendships and experiences that I'll never experience ever again (unless I do another project of course!).

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program? 

DO IT. Don't hesitate, just go. Be open minded and the country and people will love you right back.

If you could volunteer abroad again, where would you go?

Bali, Thailand, Greenland, South Africa, or of course, Ecuador again.