Highlights: The highlight of my volunteer experience was definitely working with local children. The children that UBECI serves work with their parents in the public markets around the city. They start working almost as soon as they can walk by helping peel vegetables or walk around the market looking for buyers. They are busy trying to help their families survive, so it is often difficult for them to have time to just act like kids. UBECI’s main focus is to help these children enter into and thrive in the public education system, but they also try to create a safe space for the kids to come and just act like kids. The children are so grateful and happy when they see volunteers, it is really an amazing feeling. I volunteered for 8 weeks, and although it went really fast it was enough time to begin to get to know a lot of the children. I will forget their faces each morning that they would see our UBECI tent, books, puzzles, and toys.
Morning: I would wake up around 7:30am, get ready for volunteering, and then eat breakfast with my host mother. Breakfast always consisted of coffee or tea and bread. Lunch is the big meal there, so if you are used to a big breakfast, you might want to bring snacks to get you through. It is also really easy to buy fresh fruit and vegetables around town. (Just be careful to wash them with purified or bottled water.)
After breakfast, I walked about 20 minutes to the UBECI office. (UBECI is one of the local organizations that UBELONG partners with in Ecuador.) All the volunteers would meet at the UBECI office and travel to the projects together via city buses. United States currency is used in Ecuador, so it is a good idea to have a large supply of quarters (for the public transportation) and small dollar bills.
Afternoon: My afternoons were spent volunteering at an after-school program near one of the public markets just north of the city’s historical center. When I first started I worked mainly with the younger children (about 2-5 years old). Along with another volunteer, we would read to the kids and play with them. After about an hour or so, one of the UBECI staff members would do a short lesson or arts and crafts project with them. After I had been volunteering for about a week, I started working more with the older children (7-11 years old). I would help them with homework and then teach short (30-45 minute) English lessons.
Evening: I would leave the after-school center around 4:30pm to go home. I walked 15 minutes to a bus stop and then took a bus about 25 minutes to my host family’s home. I would hang out and talk with my host family during the time before dinner. That time was also good to use the Internet and walk around the neighborhood. It was not safe to walk around my neighborhood after sundown, so I would have to be inside by 6:30 or 7 at the latest. Dinner was usually around 7:30 and always consisted of soup and then a second course of meat (pork, chicken, or beef), rice, and beans or a salad. It was a really nice time to sit around with my host family and talk.