Kathleen Chafe - 2016 Program Participant

Operating room at Nova Clinica in Quito, Ecuador

Heading into the OR at Nova Clinica

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

Normally, I would consider myself a homebody, but when this opportunity was presented to me, I just couldn't turn it down. Not only did I get to travel to Ecuador with a group of friends, but I was also able to practice nursing in another country; who could say no to that?

How did United Planet help you create a wonderful international experience?

We planned the trip to Ecuador as a group of nursing students looking for a rewarding experience. United Planet worked with our group to ensure that our trip was both enjoyable and educationally fulfilling. With their help the trip was so much more than any of us could have imagined!

Kayaking at Laguna del Quilotoa, Ecuador

Kayaking on an active volcano: Laguna del Quilotoa

What was your favorite part about Ecuador?

What isn't there to love about Ecuador? The people are so warm and welcoming, the weather is beautiful, the scenery is breathtaking...but my favourite part (if I had to narrow it down to just one) would have to be the culture. We were lucky enough to be invited into see a shaman at work and see the kind of medicinal practices the indigenous cultures use. Talk about a once in a lifetime opportunity!

Why was your experience in Ecuador unique?

What really made my program unique was the nursing component to the trip. Their health care system is quite different from Canada's, so it was amazing to get to see another side of healthcare (both the similarities and the differences).

How helpful was the staff at United Planet?

I cannot praise the staff enough. Our translators were amazing to deal with and went above and beyond to bridge the language barrier for us, and Pablo could not have been more accommodating. We travelled in a big group of 24 and he was able to change around our schedule to accommodate our every whim so that we had the best experience possible. Even if no staff were around, they were only a phone call away, and more than happy to help at virtually any hour.

Volunteer playing with a child in Ecuador

It turns out play is a universal language.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I wish that I had studied Spanish more in depth before I went. Although our translators were top-notch, they weren't with us all of the time, and my limited Spanish was frustrating to both myself and those I was attempting to communicate with.

What was a typical day like for you in Ecuador?

Our days usually started around 7 a.m., and we would head out to a clinic/hospital for 8 a.m. Once we were there, we would spend four hours working in a wide variety of areas, always rotating spots so that everyone was able to gain experience in all locations. We were able to go to areas such as a daycare, an orphanage, a dentist's office, a geriatric facility, and an O.R. (just to name a few!). After that, we would grab a bite to eat and do some sightseeing around Quito. Sometimes we had someone guiding us, and other times we would explore on our own. We went to local markets, landmarks, mountains, and more. After dinner, we would have free time to further explore or just stay in and relax!

What is your favourite memory from your program?

Hands down, my favourite activity was visiting Laguna del Quilotoa; a lake in the crater of an active volcano! We were able to hike down the volcano, kayak on the lake, and take a mule ride back to the top. The view was amazing, and, hey, when else am I going to kayak in a volcano?

What kind of lodging did you have in Quito? What did you most like about it?

We stayed at a local hostel: Otavalo Huasi. Hearing the word "hostel,” I immediately assumed we would be packed in like sardines and would be sharing one bathroom. However, it was very spacious, only a few people to each room, and each room came with its own bathroom. The best part about it had to be their amazing wi-fi signal, so we could keep in touch with loved ones at home and send pictures from our daily adventures.

Volunteers visit the equatorial monument in Ecuador

We all became "Citizens of the Equator" on our first day in Ecuador.

How did your time in Ecuador change your view of the world?

I am definitely a lot more grateful for our health care system here in Canada and more aware of the poverty in Latin America. I think that I had a very narrow and self-centred view of the world before, but this experience allowed me to see that the world is much bigger than Canada and that our help is needed elsewhere.