Overall Rating:/ 10My experience in Ecuador was indescribable! I had previously traveled abroad a few other times, but always in groups associated with my university. Those experiences inspired me to spend some time volunteering after graduation as well, the only question was where. When I found LOVE volunteers, I knew that was the program I would volunteer through. The number of available sites and projects and affordability was hard to beat. I knew I also wanted the opportunity to learn Spanish and the Ecuador program gave me just that! I was able to take Spanish lessons for as long as I felt necessary upon arrival, I lived with a host family, and chose two projects in which I was challenged greatly and learned a lot.
As a recent nursing school graduate, I knew I wanted to participate in a medically based volunteer program. For my first 8 weeks, I volunteered as the only volunteer in a small clinic in the south of Quito. I commuted about an hour to work each day, but it was easy and very affordable. Because I was the only volunteer at this site, I was able to work one on one with a doctor and learn and perform many procedures nurses are not even taught in the U.S. I gave and took out a countless number of stitches, passed medications (because I was trained in that), and assisted in some small surgical procedures, among many other opportunities. For my last 7 weeks of volunteering, I worked in a foundation for kids with disabilities, another passion of mind. Here I functioned as a therapy assistant to physical therapists. This is a small organization with few staff and you see the same 13 kids each day, so I was able to form very close relationships with the kids. They all suffer from differing types and severities of disabilities, the majority suffering from some sort of paralysis. We would ride horses, go swimming, perform massages, and just be an extra set of hands for the care givers. I loved working here because of the relationships I formed with the children and staff, but also because they really needed our help at this site with the great needs of the children and limited amount of staff they had working there. Not only did I learn a lot about international medicine and therapy, as well as learning a lot about myself, but these opportunities also greatly improved my Spanish speaking ability.
In Ecuador, I was also able to live with a host family that I LOVE dearly. There is also an option to live with other volunteers in an apartment, but I would HIGHLY recommend living with a host family. Here I was able to be fully immersed in the Ecuadorean culture. I ate typical food dishes...that were delicious!, spoke Spanish (which proved to get easier each day), and even got to attend family/neighborhood events with my family. I really, truly feel like I was living like a typical Ecuadorean during my stay. I went to Ecuador having taken a couple of years of Spanish in high school and college, but not speaking much, and left probably almost fluent, which was exciting and quite the accomplishment for myself. The staff and teachers at the site and school in Quito were awesome. I was always able to get in touch with them via email and Skype prior to leaving to answer any questions, and upon arrival in Quito I was given all of the tools and information I needed during my stay. The staff are truly amazing! They always have activities planned in the afternoons for volunteers to participate in, whether it be cocktail class, cooking class, salsa lessons, etc. and they also plan weekend trips every weekend. So in my total time in Ecuador, I was able to make it to all three regions of Ecuador and a number of cities amongst the three for relatively cheap. There are also always other volunteers in the school from all over the world to hang out with or travel with. I met some pretty amazing travelers with the most unique and crazy life stories that I also still keep in touch with now that I am home.
Overall, I could not ask for a better experience than the one I had when I was in Ecuador. And the friendships and relationships I formed while abroad, I cherish every day. I hope some day I am able to return to see all of them again and visit the country I miss so dearly!