Tell us a bit about yourself and why you love to travel?
I started a WordPress blog in 2015 for Creative Writing, and I started to follow a lot of travel bloggers. I really like reading about others experiences in their travels. I am a double major, studying pre-medical health sciences and Spanish as a foreign language. Once I picked up Spanish, it is advised that you study abroad to have an immersion experience. This led me to a volunteer program in Ecuador and a study abroad program in Spain.
Tell us about your volunteer work in Pedernales, Ecuador?
Two years ago, Pedernales had a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that crushed the coast. I had registered for a volunteer abroad trip that travels to San Lorenzo, Ecuador. The members of the trip have an opportunity to shadow a local surgeon there as well as work in the clinic. Because of the natural disaster, the doctor and her co-workers at the clinic arranged for us to do relief work in Pedernales.
Once there, we worked on rebuilding a small hut for an elderly couple. While doing so, we made relief bags that we passed out to neighboring people and along the coast. During our midday break from the building, the ladies from the San Lorenzo clinic held readings with the local children. Everyone who came to a reading received a relief/hygiene bag and was showed how to use everything in the bag. The hut was almost completely finished after 5 days of labor.
Why did you decide to volunteer in Ecuador?
I decided that I wanted to do something abroad, especially that provided a combination of my schooling. My university has a club called Global Health Initiative, that partners with the Latin American Missions Board, which operates this annual trip. The clinic receives numerous volunteers each year and has different programs with different groups. My Spanish advisor was the current mentor of the club and recommended that I give it a try, to ease myself in to traveling. This was the first time that I have ever left the United States.
Were there many challenges to volunteering in Ecuador?
Honestly, one of the biggest challenges was volunteering as a group. There can be a lot of different personalities within a group of college students. Because of this, it can make simple tasks much more difficult.
Aside from the group aspect, I would say a big challenge is acclimating to the different schedules there. Ecuadorians are accustomed to waking up with the sunrise, because of their location on the Equator. They eat very early and very late- which is another thing to get use to!
What was a typical day like whilst you were in Ecuador?
Because my trip to Ecuador was for volunteer work, a normal day consisted of working around the clinic where the group volunteered. Before we headed off to Pedernales, we stayed in San Lorenzo and worked in a low-income clinic. Due to the intense sun and heat in the country, building maintenance is a must.
We worked on roofs, sanded and painted benches, painted walls, cleaned sidewalks, etc. It was a lot of hard work. Aside from the work, we were able to see the marketplaces. There were rows and rows of craft booths selling native items to Ecuador, such as fans and alpaca blankets.
What were some of the highlights of volunteering in Ecuador?
We were able to take a bus ride through the Andes mountain range to overlook the scenery. We took various trips to lakes and markets while in San Lorenzo. In Pedernales, we went to the beach every night. Pedernales is right along the coast of the Pacific Ocean, and the beaches are clean and beautiful.
Because this was a medical missions trip, some of the volunteers had the opportunity to scrub in on minor surgeries. I worked on eye surgeries, removing cataracts and replacing lenses.
Where did you stay and how did you fund your time in Ecuador?
We actually were able to stay at the clinic with the doctor. She has a small building that has various rooms, a kitchen, and living space. This allows for volunteers to have a place to live while they are working at her clinic.
Funding was done through a combination of independent fundraising and school funds. Something that I recommend to college student travelers is to present your travel to the school travel committee. It was something that I didn’t know about, and if it is for educational purposes, the school may help with the funding.
What must pack items would you recommend?
Definitely bring mosquito repellent. When we were living in Pedernales, we slept outside mosquito nets. Due to the earthquake, the homes were mostly destroyed or unstable. It was always great weather, but the bugs were unbearable. I would bring a sunhat to shield your face from the sun, plenty of sunscreen and lotion, and light/loose clothing!
What advise would you give to others who want to volunteer in countries after natural disasters?
Be prepared. Everyone has seen images of natural disasters on commercials but seeing it in real life is much more devastating. Especially in smaller countries, disasters such as this strike much harder. The community is already small, and an earthquake demolishes things that everyone needed.
The most beautiful thing about relief work is that though everything around you, every physical piece of the area is broken, the hope these people have is never broken.
Thank you Ashley for sharing your experience volunteering in Ecuador.
Any questions or comments, leave them in the comments below!
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