Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with UBELONG in Ecuador?
Max: I decided to volunteer with UBELONG for a number of reasons. I originally heard about UBELONG through my brother who found out about them while living in the D.C. area. One of the founders of UBELONG knew I wanted to go abroad so he told me about UBELONG, and the affordability, a key factor in my decision.
I was in a funk during my first year of college and needed excitement to look towards. As a result, I took his consideration of UBELONG and began to research. I'm an environmentalist with a desire to explore tropical landscapes and help underdeveloped communities. I contacted UBELONG and got a response the next day with vital information. He listened to my interests and suggested the "Coastal Forest" program in Ecuador. I was more than enthused! I looked at the pictures on UBELONG's website, all the information I needed was there--living conditions, cost, and most importantly, information about the project.
I truly decided to volunteer with UBELONG because it really was trying to make a difference in underdeveloped communities. They had an environmental project in Ecuador, something that really caught my eye. Furthermore, the website was easy to understand, all staff members were extremely helpful in guiding me through options and any questions I might have had.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Max: As a volunteer, we traveled to different rural communities to help with different projects. My day to day activities as a volunteer were exciting--never the same day.
Going through a typical day, however, I would wake up around 7:30 in the morning, walk down the stairs of the fortress (I swear, the "volunteer house" in the "Coastal Forest" program was like a tree-fort, a hut...a humble, jungle abode...it was awesome). Traditional breakfast would be cooked while I chatted with fellow volunteers. Then, 8:00 a.m. came and it was time to work!
The volunteer project ranged from helping the local farmers in the area plant cacao seeds, build fences, build recycling and trash bins or clean up the beach, etc. I could go on. So the work was beneficial not only to the local community, but to myself. It helped we grow physically and mentally. In Ecuador, the people are so strong, I had to keep up, it was a challenge. About noon, we would all meet for a great lunch (chicken, rice, beans, typically) all cooked to perfection. After an hours break of work, we would go back out, partaking in a different activity.
Weekends were free time for the volunteers. I would hitch a ride into town, (attempt to) talk with the locals, head to the beach, surf a little (I rented the lifeguard's surfboard for a dollar) and/or relax in the little park of Muisne. Or we could take the many available buses to other towns in close proximity. Some weekends I would just relax and read at the reserve, something that is hard to do in the busy life back home. The gentle nights with a cool breeze provided a perfect situation while I drifted in the many available hammocks reading myself to sleep.
How has this experience helped you grow personally and professionally?
Max: Personally, I had a lot of time to reflect on our riches back home in the U.S. and how unnecessary some were. Many of the kids I met in Ecuador (preschoolers and my age alike) seemed very content and happy with how little they had. I brought some of that humbleness back home here in the States. The experience helped me professionally by submerging me into a whole new city, (Quito was beautiful by the way) full of culture and energy. I was forced to speak Spanish (even though there were English speakers), bettering my social skills. Having to work with a whole new culture and people from all over the world--Germany, California, Norway and, of course, Ecuador--undoubtedly benefited me. The examples are genuine.
I would like to encourage people to volunteer with UBELONG. They are flexible, affordable and extremely helpful. They seek to make a positive impact. I do feel that people need excitement and something new in their lives, an international volunteer program in Ecuador will serve any person splendid. If you have a question, email Cedric and Raul and they will respond within days. I felt I really made a difference through the program in Ecuador. I now have friends in a new country, in a new continent, and we all keep in touch through the wonders of technology. I plan on returning and volunteering in the future with UBELONG; I highly recommend them as not only an organization, but as a friend.