Alumni Spotlight: John Wilson


John is a happily married father of four kids and a finance professional from Portland, Oregon. John loves travelling and experiencing new cultures and life experiences with his family.

Why did you choose this program?

As my children are starting to enter High School, my wife and I wanted to give them experiences that go beyond the usual family vacation, and expose them to the world around them.

The IVHQ/VCE Street Children project in Ecuador allowed us to work together as a family and interact with the local Ecuadorian people. It also had the right flexibility. As a working professional and with kids in school, our time window was very constricted – basically just one week. This was a good program that allowed us to achieve that.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

We organized our travel and our weekend trips, and IVHQ coordinated with VCE to take care of everything else – training and pre-trip preparation, accommodations while volunteering, breakfast and dinners, on-site volunteer support and travel to and from the volunteer locations, etc. There was still some out-of-pocket expenses for lunches, bus fare, etc., but IVHQ and VCE really took care of everything else. It was very easy for us.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Just let yourself go and immerse yourself in the experience.

Working with kids is hard work; it is dirty work – on the ground in an open area, and kids are kids! Embracing the kids, interacting with them at their level, and sharing the natural joyfulness that children have was key to enjoying the experience for my family and I.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

The average day for us meant waking up, eating breakfast at the family's house we were sharing, walking to the VCE offices where we met the VCE team, and bused together with them to the markets.

Once at the markets, we played Lego, helped the kids sing songs, colored, played soccer, and then helped the volunteer leaders teach a brief lesson. We went to lunch as a volunteer team locally. In the afternoon, we essentially repeated the same program until we took the bus back to the office and walked back to our residence.

At the residence, we ate dinner and interacted with our host family. My eight-year old daughter played Just Dance with our host family's daughter one night; another night we made chocolate empanadas with the other volunteers. My teenaged son and daughter loved hanging out with the college-aged kids.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

We had plenty of fears before arriving. We don't speak a lot of Spanish; how would that impact our ability to communicate with the kids? We were concerned about whether we'd get sick from the food/water, and travelling with kids only elevates that risk. We were concerned about our personal safety and how our accommodations would support us.

None of those fears turned out to be founded. The volunteers took great care to ensure our safety – the food was always well-prepared, tasty and safe. Kids are kids and are flexible enough to communicate in a variety of ways, and between our limited Spanish and hand signals we got it done!

What was your favorite memory from the trip?

It's hard to pick out one specific memory, but at one point I looked around and saw my oldest son kicking a soccer ball with kids, my oldest daughter rocking a baby in her arms, my youngest son playing Lego with a group of boys, and my youngest daughter holding in her lap a child barely smaller than her and helping her color a picture.

That was exactly the experience I was hoping for my family to have –interacting and communicating with the Ecuadorian kids and helping in a small way to brighten the lives for those children.