Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with Help Learn and Discover in Ecuador?
Maricely: I always knew that I wanted to get involved in a program like Help Learn and Discover, especially during this time of my life.
When I found HLD, a program that merged my desire to travel with my interest in medicine, I knew this was the perfect fit for me. Once I read more about the volunteer portion of the trip, I was even more convinced that I should sign up. What really attracted me to this program, was how I would be able to experience a real hospital setting.
I know that I love what I am studying in school but I wasn’t sure if I would feel differently once I was actually in an operating room! HLD stood out for me above all other programs because it didn’t just focus on giving students experience in the medical field, it also gave me a chance to make a significant contribution to a community.
This was an important deciding factor for me. After I researched the company more and read reviews from past volunteers, I felt very confident that this was what I wanted to do with my summer.
If you could go back and do something different, what would it be?
Maricely: That’s easy! If I could go back and do things over I would absolutely sign up for the extra week in the Galapagos. After I heard stories and saw pictures from the group that had gone, I knew I’d missed out on an incredible opportunity.
Aside from that glaring mistake, I wish I had been more active in my experience there. Although I made a lot of new friends and had a lot of first time experiences during my trip, I should have taken better advantage of my time there. For example, after working at the volunteer site I was usually so burned out that I would go take a nap or read a book.
In hindsight I should have seized those moments regardless of how tired I was. For anyone who is planning to participate in HLD my best advice would be to appreciate every moment of your trip because I promise you will look back and miss your time there.
Do you feel like you made a significant impact on the local community? Why or why not?
Maricely: Absolutely. This experience is unique in the sense that not only are you directly involved in fundraising, but you also get to personally see how that money is spent and what it is being put towards.
This year we were able to raise a record setting $135,000 which allowed us to build 21 homes. We actually raised more money than what was necessary for the construction of the houses and because of this we were able to set aside a $3 000 scholarship fund. It’s one thing to raise money but another thing to actually work alongside the people who are receiving your time and donations.
I truly believe that we made a significant impact on the people of Camarones. It’s a great feeling knowing that you were able to provide something so crucial for a community in need. Now these families don’t have to worry about spending money on their living conditions, and can put that money towards their children’s education.
Tell me about one person you met.
Maricely: If I had to pick it would have to be Edwin, the construction worker I was assigned to during my time volunteering. Since Spanish is my first language I was able to learn a lot about Edwin and all of his friends at the site. One of the first things he told me about himself was that he had two young daughters and he would constantly update me on funny things they had done that day.
I was always amazed by how trusting and patient he was with our group. He demonstrated this by confidently holding up nails with his fingers while I hammered at them. I had to really focus on not missing! More than anything I appreciated how he made everyone around him feel like family, by joking with us or giving us unfortunate nicknames (mine was la Mexicana).
Whenever I saw him outside of the construction site, like at soccer games or dances, he was always holding either one or both of his daughters. I can’t help but smile when I think of how he is now forming new funny moments with his daughters in his new house.
Has your worldview changed as a result of your trip?
Maricely: It was definitely an eye opening experience to say the least. Before this trip, I had never been outside of my comfort zone.
I had usually travelled to very tourist-like locations and mainly stayed in resort areas. I loved actually seeing how other people live and learning about their culture. Something that really stood out for me was how the kids there were constantly outside and inventing new games with one another. It really surprised me how they were able to make so much out of so little.
This trip allowed me to look at how fortunate I am, it made me realize that there will always be someone who has less than you and yet they continue to look at the world with optimism. Going into this trip, I was really looking forward to spending time at the hospital but when I look back, volunteering was the most memorable part of this whole experience. After my time in Ecuador I am seriously considering working in a third world country and helping people who don’t have medical services readily available to them.