Ecuador is one of the world’s most diverse places, as it is home to the warm beaches of the Pacific, the breathtaking Amazon rain forest, and some of the tallest mountains in the world in the Andes mountain range. In addition to being environmentally unique, Ecuador also is a multiethnic country with a large variety of languages, cultures, and histories that all come together in everyday life. From the indigenous Andes villages to the bustling feel of Quito, Ecuador is an adventurer’s dream.
Many students choose to volunteer in Ecuador because of its high poverty level in addition to its natural beauty, which gives students more than enough opportunities to really make a difference. Ecuador is always looking for volunteers to assist their communities, especially in the inner cities and the endangered wildlife. Because of this, there are many options for high school students who want to volunteer in Ecuador, including working on the famous Galapagos Islands or right on the Equator. Students can make a long term impact on their community of choice instead of just taking a vacation.
While Ecuador is known for its natural beauty and striking landscapes, it is also known for its largely impoverished population. Because of this, the majority of volunteer programs are based around community development and teaching English. With that said, there are also some programs that focus on wildlife preservation and rainforest conservation in addition to other outdoorsy programs, so students who wish to volunteer in Ecuador should be compassionate as well as adventurous.
- Community Development: The majority of programs in Ecuador focus on this area of volunteer work. Students can teach English to local children and/or adults, work with street children to improve their education and standard of living, or encourage sustainability efforts. Volunteers typically work for most of the day at least 4-5 days per week, leaving time for socialization with natives and exploring the surrounding area.
- Conservation: Because much of Ecuador is covered in rain forests and natural habitats, conservation is also a popular area of volunteering. Students can become involved in environmental education, protection of endangered species, and creation of strategies to minimize deforestation. On average, volunteers will work about 30-35 hours per week and spend their free time hiking and exploring, taking trips to indigenous communities, and partaking in numerous other outdoor activities.
- Volunteer and Travel: While this type of program may not be as popular as others, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a great opportunity. Students get the best of both worlds with this type: they can help an impoverished culture while really seeing what the country has to offer. Students who volunteer and travel will typically work about 15-20 hours per week and travel the rest of the time, allowing them to see everything from urban life to rainforest and indigenous areas. Students will really get a feeling of the Ecuadorian culture and history, as well as help natives improve their lives.
When and Where to Volunteer Abroad
One thing to note about Ecuador is that it is located on the Equator, so it has no seasons. There is no “hot” or “cold” time to go, which helps students decide when would be the best time to volunteer. Because of this, most programs are offered throughout the year, so students can be flexible about when they decide to go. The most popular places to volunteer are Quito (the capital), Cuenca, and the Galapagos Islands. As bigger cities, Quito and Cuenca are great places to volunteer with community development programs, as students will be able to help impoverished children and families. For wildlife conservation and the outdoor programs, the Galapagos Islands are the ideal place to go, with their lush forests and beautiful beaches.
Resources for Parents
For many high schoolers who want to volunteer abroad, the biggest issue is convincing their parents to let them go. Many parents are reluctant to allow their children to go to a different country, but if parents work with their child to pick the right program, then parents should have nothing to worry about. Most programs have extremely good support systems that include airport pickup, an orientation, Spanish immersion classes, program supervision, and constant volunteer support. Parents should be aware that their children should obtain some vaccinations before he/she travels to Ecuador, so check with his/her physician. Parents should also send their child with diarrhea pills and other over-the-counter medicine so that he/she is prepared for any food poisoning/other minor illnesses. Crime does happen in Ecuador, but as a parent, you can help your child be more aware of how to avoid being a victim of crime, such as never leaving your belongings unattended.
The average cost for a one semester volunteer program can be anywhere from $2,000-$5,000, depending on where in Ecuador it is and if the program includes housing. For students who wish to volunteer for only a few weeks, it can be as inexpensive as $120 per week. To lower the cost of volunteering in Ecuador, consider applying for a scholarship. One of the best scholarship resources for volunteers is FinAid. Volunteers should also check with their schools or local religious communities, as they will frequently offer scholarships for volunteers.