GoAbroad Interview

Cheryl Dedes - U.S. General Coordinator

Cheryl Dedes - U.S. General Coordinator

Cheryl received her bachelor's in Psychology and Political Science from University at Buffalo. While studying abroad in Florence, she traveled as much as she could between art classes. After graduation, Cheryl volunteered with a literacy program, as well as with the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. Her love for travel and volunteerism came together in Ecuador. Now, she gets to share that with other people; it's her dream job!

You’re from Albany, NY, how did you get connected with the Ecuador Volunteer Foundation? 

I knew for a long time that I wanted to spend time in South America, so after a lot of contemplation and a little bit of research, I finally bought a one way ticket to Ecuador. There I met Elizabeth Gray, Director of the Wishi Project, a school building project in the Amazon. It was fate. Even though she lived in Albany for years, we actually met in Quito.

Volunteers with a local in Ecuador

Cheryl and Elizabeth with the Wishi crew

You spent some time living in Ecuador and built schools in the Amazon, how did this lead to the founding of Ecuador Volunteer USA? 

I met Francisco, the Executive Director of EVF, while he was mentoring Elizabeth with the Wishi Project. She would have meetings with him and bring me along. Eventually, Francisco asked me to join the cause.

What exactly does your role as the U.S. General Coordinator entail on a day-to-day basis? 

Most of what I do is communicate with potential volunteers about our programs. This includes responding to emails, speaking on the phone, etc. People like to have someone to talk to about the programs, to know what their options are. Many people ask about my own experience in Ecuador.

Volunteering in Ecuador with monkeys

Hanging with the monkeys at our Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Project

What sets Ecuador Volunteer Foundation’s programs apart from other volunteer programs in Ecuador? 

Ecuador Volunteer Foundation was the first organization of its kind to be recognized by the Ecuadorian government. It's also one of the very few organizations in Ecuador authorized to recruit both nationally and internationally. But, perhaps the most compelling quality about EVF is that we are committed to working with each community's own perspective to create projects that fulfill their unique goals. We also focus on assisting micro enterprises and projects that are led by and for women.

If you could volunteer on one of Ecuador Volunteer Foundation’s projects, which would you choose?

One of our most popular projects is the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation project, but if I had to choose, I would probably go for a social or community project versus a project with an environmental focus. The amount of time I could stay would also be a factor. If I only had a week, I might choose Community Development in the Andes, whereas if I could stay for a month or more, I might choose to teach English in the Community Work in the Amazon Rainforest project. 

You love to dance and paint, which of Ecuador Volunteer Foundation’s placements would you recommend for art-focused students?

Working with indigenous populations, as well as children. There are plenty of opportunities to learn from the people here, and share your own art. You bring your perspective and personality with you. One volunteer who taught English used music to do it, because that's what she brought to the table. Both the Quichua family that I lived with and the Shuar community that we visited were artisans, and I had a chance to paint with them, and they shared with us some of their dances. It's something you never forget.

Teaching English in Quito, Ecuador

Teaching English in Quito

What is your biggest goal as U.S. General Coordinator for the next year?

I hope to inspire as many people as possible to volunteer with us, and have the life changing experience that I had.

What is your favorite part about working for Ecuador Volunteer Foundation?

My favorite part about working for Ecuador Volunteer Foundation is the chance for the deep change that occurs when you volunteer, travel, and open yourself up to new opportunities and people. It's that moment when the volunteer decides to jump in and experience it for themselves.