Why did you decide to volunteer with IVHQ in Ecuador?
Luca: Well, it pretty much chose me! I was a year into my International Studies degree and I felt like I should really experience the world, if I was going to study it effectively. I remember in my lunch break I just went on a Wikipedia adventure and ended up on Ecuador's page and was fascinated by this almost forgotten country. I googled Ecuador volunteer and IVHQ came up; exactly what I needed! Cheap, experienced, and the program looked amazing! Within 20 minutes I had booked my trip and paid for it. I forgot the tell my mum, actually, it happened so fast!
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Luca: Well, I lived in the volunteer house with the family who ran the local organization I was volunteering with, UBECI. It was awesome. I would wake up at about 7, run down to the kitchen with the other volunteers and have a traditional Ecuadorian meal (sans meat for me- actually, their willingness to cater for a vegetarian really blew me away!) And after that, we would all walk together to the office, which was about a 10 minute walk, and then catch a bus to the market we were going to be volunteering at, which ranged from a 10 min ride to an hour!
Once we were at the market, we would set up the tent and unpack the toys and books and skipping rope and the kids would come out of the woodwork! Then we would start the week's activity, which would include painting or writing Christmas wishes, or whichever activity we had planned for the week. I was in charge of babies and under 3's, so that pretty much involved holding the little ones and entertaining them! After that, we would pack up and have a nice break for lunch with the other volunteers, and in the afternoon, we would go to another market and do it all over again! However, for my first week, I had Spanish lessons in the afternoon to brush up on my rusty Español! At night, we would all come back to the volunteer house and have an awesome cooked meal again, and either spend a night with the family, go out and see Quito or have an early night!
How has this experience helped you grow personally and professionally?
Luca: I think it would be quicker to say how it hasn't impacted me! Honestly, it's been all pervasive in its influence. I've travelled a lot, but never like what I experienced in Ecuador. All my essay choices and academic decisions tend to gravitate towards Latin America now. I feel like I've experienced the development issues present there and have a far greater insight because of it. It's made my degree real somehow. I'm no longer objectively commenting on development or poverty or macroeconomics; what I learn means something for the kids I worked with and the people I lived with. It HAS definitely made me see the human side of something that all too often loses its humanity.
Personally, I don't think I've ever grown as much as I did in Ecuador. I'm so glad I kept a diary! The people I met were from all over the world and weren't used to my Australian humour or my way of seeing the world; so I had to adapt and learn to live in harmony with people I could sometimes scarcely understand. It was a priceless experience; I really feel I've gained insight into not only Ecuador's culture, but that of the US, Canada, Japan, Germany and so many others. Living with other volunteers was a crash course in cultural understanding! I'm so much more culturally enriched because of it.
Professionally, I have been able to bring everything I learned in Ecuador into my arsenal of skills. Employers really want to see initiative, independence, empathy and broad horizons; travelling and working in Ecuador provided me with all of that. When we volunteer overseas, we display initiative- we didn't use our parents' connections. We display independence- we are stepping out of our linguistic, familial and cultural comfort zone. We are also displaying the height of empathy and broadening our horizons in the process.
I honestly couldn't recommend IVHQ higher!