What made you volunteer in the first place?
Growing up I was privileged to have the opportunity to travel with my parents, and various other school groups. This taste of the world, and all of the amazing cultures, peoples, and natural beauties it holds, instilled in me a passion for travelling and exploring. Going into my final year of school I was a dedicated academic. I valued my education and had every intention of furthering my studies at university, but I knew that for that next part of my life to be productive I needed a new experience. I had always loved serving and volunteering in my community and in my school. Volunteering, and specifically through Latitude, married my two passions – travelling and serving.
Why choose Ecuador?
South America is a continent filled with diversity and culture. You can go from the desert, to the snowy mountains, to the jungle in a day. I was intrigued about this small and little-known country nestled amongst it all, whilst giving the perfect opportunity to explore more of South America. I also loved the living arrangement that is unique to the Ecuadorian placements. I had had experience with homestays in Tonga and China before, and I knew that this was a unique and special way of immersing myself into a different culture, and finding out what it is like to be part of an Ecuadorian family – not just a foreign volunteer.
What did your exchange involve?
During my five months volunteering in Ecuador I worked and lived in a city called Cuenca, in the southern part of the country in the Andes. Here I had two placements. My first placement was at Jan Jose de Calasanz, a school for disabled adults and children. I absolutely adored this placement and all it entailed! At first I split my time between helping younger children in the computer lab with academic games, and the rest of my time was spent in the art room. For the more secondary to senior students’ classes were directed at teaching them practical skills. Using these skills, they made products that were then sold to fund the school and the students’ education. This was a privilege to be a part of. Even though I didn’t, and still don’t, rate myself as an artist, I can’t even begin to explain the joy of giving from outside of your known strengths. In the painting room I worked with majority Down syndrome guys, that had me smiling and laughing the entire time, and I created an awesome bond with my overseeing teacher. On Wednesday mornings I was lucky enough to spend time working in the school’s little bakery. This was another unknown talent of mine which I was excited to get into. After we’d made and baked the bread, myself, a teacher, and a few of the students would go out and sell it. My second placement was at Centro Aurora an after school care programme for kids from troubled or poorer homes. Here my role was to help mostly the younger students, around 5 years old, with their homework. Then we would take them to the park, play games, and serve them meals. Whilst they may have been troubled these children were absolute gems – however, it’s always the cute ones that are crazy! Each week we would also take an English class with the older students. This definitely embedded in me a deep respect for teaching staff. Highly rewarding, but difficult at times!
What was your favourite memory?
I adored my work, but a highlight for me was travelling for two months afterwards with a Scottish volunteer. For two months we back packed our way through Peru, Bolivia and a bit of Chile. Along the way we saw incredible sights, such as Machu Picchu, Salar de Uyuni – the world’s largest salt flats, we went in the Amazon jungle, hiked snowy mountain peaks in the Andes, and I even managed to get out to the famous Galapagos Islands. This was an amazing opportunity where we had to learn how to budget, survive of tomato sandwiches, tackle South American buses, sleep in pretty grim, but exciting places, and learn all the savvy tips for travelling.