Why did you decide to volunteer with UBELONG in Ecuador?
Nick: I saw the program in Quito as an opportunity to make a substantial difference in the health and well-being of children there while, also being able to immerse myself in the Ecuadorean culture and landscape. Even though I did not have a large amount of experience in the field of public health research (the specific project I volunteered in), I knew that with concerted effort I could be successfully make a change in the health of the markets I was working in and also gain experience in the healthcare/public health field.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Nick: The daily volunteering experience was fantastic! Three meals were provided from our home stay mom, so the day began with a breakfast of bread and butter with tea around 7:30. We would then take a bus to the home office of UBELONG's partner organization in Quito, and would meet up with all the other volunteers and workers. We would then depart as a group to whichever market we were working in that day since we worked in a different outdoor market each day. One thing every volunteer becomes proficient in is using the public transportation system!
Once we arrived in the market we would set up our play area for the children's program and would go our into the market to get the kids. Most of the children we worked with we're the kids of vendors who work in the market, and were generally in the age range of 1-14. We would then do different activities with the children, ranging from playing games, to reading and learning english, to drawing and working on math.
My specific project with UBELONG was to conduct a preliminary health assessment in the markets and conduct a research project on creating health education programs for the children in the markets, so I spent much of my time conducting interviews and making observations. A majority of the volunteers would do all the activities with the children in the morning, then go to lunch either back at their home or at a nearby restaurant, and then come back to work with the children again in the afternoon. We would normally return home for the night at around 5:30 or 6 and would have dinner with our family and then relax (or for me personally, work on my research paper).
I also loved being able to travel on the weekends! I was able to go to the rainforest, mountain bike and raft through the Andes, climb the tallest active volcano in the world, go to the largest market in Ecuador, stand on the equator, and much more in my short 4 week stay! The life of a volunteer is never boring.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Nick: Volunteering abroad was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I definitely gained much more than I was able to give during my stay. Firstly, to be able to be immersed in the culture and live with a family was such a wonderful way to experience a country. Seeing all of the difficulties the families and children we worked with face on a daily basis has left me extremely grateful for all that I have been blessed with and passionate to give back in any way I can. My experience also showed me that it does not take a professional degree or fancy job title to be able to make a big difference abroad - all it takes is a commitment to help and a willingness to put forth your best effort while you are there! Professionally, I can honestly say that this was very influential in opening my eyes to the potential the field of healthcare and public health holds, and has given me in the field experience of how healthcare effects people's lives daily. My time in Ecuador also helped shape my long term goal of running a nonprofit focused on bettering the health of the most vulnerable abroad.