South America has been on my bucket list for the longest time, and since I've been looking for an NGO support program, this made sense. Plus, I get a chance to polish my rusty Spanish and take lessons at an affordable rate. On a career side note, I have been thinking of pivoting to the NGO world, so this gave me a good opportunity to dip my feet and get some exposure to reality and challenges.
Jingying is a banking and finance professional, food and culture enthusiast who champions wildlife conservation, mental health awareness, financial empowerment, and access to education. She lives in Singapore and since 2014 has volunteered in Zimbabwe, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Ecuador, Peru, and the Amazon.
Why did you choose this program?
What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
Due to my travel schedule, I left the booking of flight tickets in the good hands of IVHQ and they did a wonderful job - very prompt and painless. As always, they were helpful, responsive and provided all the NGO contacts and information I needed. It was a smooth journey from airport pick up, to meeting my homestay family and getting settled in.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
Master some basic Spanish phrases; it goes a long way! It shows your willingness to learn, and that you are invested in your time spent working alongside the NGO staff.
Most NGOs operate with a very small team and limited budget; volunteers have to be self-motivated to contribute their skills and experience to help out any way they can, be it social media outreach, reviewing their financials, translation of documents, writing grants, donor reports, researching funds and foundations, exploring partnerships to ensure sustainable funding for their activities. Utilize your network and contacts back home, contact your university, even start your own fundraising campaign!
If you have any questions, don't be afraid to ask. Expect an unstructured environment and keep an open mind. A good starting point is to check with current volunteers (via the Facebook group) about ongoing projects in order to be better prepared.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
Volunteers have a group meeting every Tuesday with the program director, where we will share and discuss the various tasks we're working on, any challenges, or advise needed. We do get guidance from the director and have regular check-ins, but generally, volunteers have autonomy over the respective tasks they work on, with regular brainstorming sessions to help the NGO ensure sustainability of their street children programs.
Some volunteers are happy to work on solo tasks; other projects may require a team and take weeks to complete - it all depends on the NGO's needs at the time. Working hours are 9AM - 4:30PM, and volunteers have weekends and Mondays off to travel or explore the city of Quito.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
By now, I am no stranger to overseas volunteering, but I was a little worried about the altitude (2,850m) after hearing my friends' experiences of having appetite loss, nausea, headaches for days. Being sick far from home is no fun, so I obtained some Diamox from my travel doctor just in case. Apart from a mild headache that lasted the first few hours, I was completely fine. It's true what they say - altitude sickness can hit anyone regardless of fitness level; it comes and goes, you can never tell! Drink plenty of water and electrolytes; that definitely helped.
Apart from the volunteer experience, what were some of the best memories you had in Ecuador?
At the end of my six weeks, I fell in love with the historic old town, the cobblestone streets, museums, colonial buildings, and church architecture. It is safe, convenient, easy to navigate and full of culture, good food, and friendly locals.
Quito was founded in the 16th century on the ruins of an Inca city, and being so well-preserved all these years, was in fact the first World Cultural heritage site declared by UNESCO in 1978. It's home to the famous Middle Of The World equator line where you can literally stand in both hemispheres at the same time. Fascinating!
My favorite moments were watching the sweeping volcano landscapes as we drove from lake to lake, getting close to nature and hiking in the rainforest. There is so much to explore in this beautiful country; wish I could have stayed longer!