Ashley from Two Sides to Every Story shares her experience volunteering in Ecuador on a medical mission; just after it’s earthquake two years ago. 

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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  1. It’s good to read someone can dedicate their time in paying to the society. It’s always a sad thing to see how beautiful countries and beautiful people are destroyed by natural disaster. I’ll love to volunteer for a national cause one day and feel round of myself. I’m so proud of Ashley

  2. What an inspiring story! It sounds wonderful to combine helping people in need with learning the language and even getting some experiences in your medical profession. My partner and me are travelling since 2 years now and we also try to find volunteering places to give something back to people in need. It is so much better than just the “normal” touristic way of travelling. Thanks for sharing your experience, I hope many other travellers will be inspired to do some volunteering as well.
    Bianca & Thomas

  3. What a wonderful story that highlights the very best in human nature. This is so inspiring and would hopefully encourage other people to step forward and volunteer their services when they are needed the most. How great this was able to be done in such a timely manner to help people get back on their feet and what a meaningful way to bond with locals and fellow volunteers. A time you are not likely to ever forget and a growth experience to benefit all (yourself included).

  4. Such a beautiful story, and I appreciate the courage and the attitude towards volunteering. I find it so wonderful that Ashley took time off to help those in need, especially after having been devastated in a big earthquake. It’s so lovely that she shares her experience doing this as I hope that it does encourage others to get more involved for the sake of helping those in need.

  5. It was very interesting to read this interview, especially because non many people go to volunteer after a disaster happens and then tell the story of how it really is. I can imagine how much of a satisfaction it was to finish building that house in just 5 days. And working in the clinic alongside the doctor, seeing first hand the aftermath of the disaster, it can’t be easy at all but it definitely gives an emotional satisfaction knowing that you were able to do something to help.

  6. This was really a humbling read. I feel so privileged to be able to travel, and in comfort too. So, one day, I’d like to give back to a community, in any way, and contribute in some way. Well done for sacrificing your own time to help those most in need. And also, great tip on the mosquito repellent, I can imagine you really need it out there!

  7. This is something I have always wanted to do, travel but also volunteer. Ashley is a hero! Even though she has never left thr US she still travel outside her comfort zone to help other in need! I know that she is only a volunteer in Ecuador sent by her school, but I hope she will continue on the same direction! The world need more people like her!

  8. Such an inspiring story. It is always a nice feeling to learn about stories where bloggers combine travel with volunteering, a great way to give back to the society. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story and experience of volunteering in disaster-hit places.

  9. My friend volunteered on a medical mission to South America as well and came away with amazing stories and great personal growth. I’m so much in awe with people who carve out so much of their time to serve others. I can understand the pains of trying to volunteer with a group of college students. There are always going to be issues as everyone is still trying to “discover” who they are.

  10. Thank you for sharing Ashley’s story on your blog! This was truly inspiring and makes me want to volunteer my time and effort too, for those who have been hit with a natural disaster. Ecuador is a beautiful country and one that I’ve always wanted to visit. We should be thankful for people like Ashley who do work to help the country recover.

  11. Would love to do something like this and help others in need – what an awesome experience and an awesome person to sacrifice their time helping others. I bet it was difficult seeing the wreckage on arrival but good to know you’re making a difference.

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