I spent 2 months volunteering in Quito Ecuador in a private school. Also, I volunteered last year but I kept my review in a doc. I've decided to post it here for future volunteers. I'm from the states and I've studied abroad 2x prior to this volunteer trip. I'm also semi-fluent in spanish at a B2 level. Ok, let's begin.
I volunteered at a private school in south Quito. I assisted a teacher for 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th grade classes. I helped the teacher pronounce words and corrected their grammer as they were at an upper-intermediate level of English but weren’t fluent. One time after classes my head teacher asked me how to pronounce the difference between, “beach” and “b*itch”. I enjoyed my placement a lot, but I felt four weeks was enough because even the children eventually lose interest. They cried like crazy when my friend, Yan, was only there for 2 weeks. They like new faces. Also, I feel I would have made a better impact at a public school where there were 0 teachers of English and budget cuts.
I stayed at 2 different homestays during my 8 weeks of volunteering. For the first 4/5 weeks, I was at S's (since this is a late review I'm gonna call her "S" but if you're there you'll know). I really liked our living quarters. It was sort of like a hostel and us volunteers had privacy. There were 2 beds to a room and some of us got our own. She was a 20 minute walk from VCE or 25 cent, 5 minute bus ride. Her food was okay at times, and delicious others. She was a bit stingy at times and skimped on giving us 6, satisfying portions. She also did a few shady things and made up rules but I would give her a 7/10. Unfortunately, my other housemates were brutally honest in their feedback form and the volunteers before us had also made several complaints to the head of VCE so we were moved into different locations and they put S on a “2 month break”. I really hope she is still serving volunteers though. She was sweet and she tailored one of my skirts. After, I got placed in Myra’s house alone because I was staying the longest and a “big group was coming in 2 weeks”. I heard a few things about her house but they didn’t seem to drastically negative….If I only knew. If you are with a decent sized group at Myra’s your food quality should be okay. The best places to stay would be at America’s and the volunteer house. I heard about those 2 the most. The best breakfast is at the volunteer house. If you stay at Myra or Susana’s you will get bread, jam, a fruit and tea. The volunteer house makes omelettes, pancakes, etc.
Don’t buy too much at first. I originally paid for 30, then lowered it to 20. If I had to do it again I would have just stuck with 12 or none at all. If you are a beginner/intermediate, you may find it beneficial to take lessons but I would not recommend it for advanced students. 3/5 volunteers who lived with me took the beginner classes and none of them liked it. One didn’t even finish. However, I did meet other non-advanced volunteers to enjoyed their 12 hours but most people were bored. If you are a language lover like me and you are a beginner just buy 12 hours and decide if you want to extend or not. I’m advanced and even my teacher said I did not need to take lessons, I only needed conversation practice, which he failed at giving. I was past subjunctive, etc. Another advanced student from Switzerland lived with me as well and did not find it beneficial to take lessons. After finishing my hours I bought some Verbling.com lessons from another teacher. You decide.
Volunteer Connection Ecuador(VCE):
Sigh, I’m on the fence. They do really great with the feedback they receive when you fill out a form every two weeks. If you make a complaint they ask if you want to leave and switch you from a project. The negatives would be miscommunication and low level of English from some workers. They also treat us like children. Besides the curfew, one time I emailed the head of VCE that I would be taking off my first day after over 7 weeks of volunteering. They ignored my emails and only communicated with my host mother for 3 days. This ruined my last week as my driver was told not to show up as my host mother had not seen me as of yet. You can't come here for 2 weeks and feel you know what's happening.
The first country I’ve been to with no beggars. If poor people want money, they either sell something or they perform. That was my biggest shock. It was beautiful. Speaking of beautiful, the country is beautiful with nice food and diverse landscapes. I love how close everything was and how there were endless things to do each weekend. It’s also very cheap for those of us from the US, Europe, and other wealthier countries.
Most are young. Either late teens or in their twenties. There were a handful of older folk in my 8 weeks. I saw 3 in person. Many came for short stints my first 6 weeks and my last two, people came for 8+ weeks. The main negative of this placement are all the short term stints however, but it's life. Not everyone has time. It’s easy to make friends as you all live together and volunteer together, especially with the street children project. Depending on your stay, you could get really amazing people, or the opposite (not bad but boring), but most people are the same as back home except a handful may think they’re special because they travel. On that trip I met great people, but only about 5 stood out. I’m sure I wasn’t any more special to anyone else either. Just regular gap year folks.
I felt we were needed. Many schools lacked English teachers. There weren’t any particular jobs that us volunteers took from other locals. At first, I was suspicious of the street children project until I volunteered 3 days with it. The children in the market really look forward to the volunteers. They are so poor that their parents have them working in the market with them, and a lot of the children I saw had rotten teeth and dirty clothes. The street children project brought them excitement, gave them attention, taught them lessons, and most of all, allowed them to be kids.
Also, sometimes I felt like IVHQ could be doing more. Like there was some type of maintaining poverty or the current situation of the people for the volunteers. I’m not sure how much money VCE gets from us volunteers, but it appears to be little as the NGO team has to request a lot of donations to keep on running. Some projects seem very simple. In fact, most projects make an impact but not a strong change for the people as most volunteers are short term. I also read online that VCE isn’t allowed to take any non-IVHQ volunteers on. That sounds super sketch. You would think IVHQ wants to help as many suffering people as possible but a lot of it is about money. They are the middle man. Check the next topic.
The only thing I was adamant about before volunteering abroad was no orphanages. It just seemed extremely unethical to me. Today I still do not know where I stand on the issue of volunteers working with orphans short term. I’ve read about the positives and negatives. Anyway, some time after my trip I discovered responsible volunteering. It is a site that gives information about different organizations like IVHQ and the ethics of volunteering. A few of their posts made me give IVHQ the side eye, so I decided to message past volunteers on FB their opinions. A lot of what responsible volunteering and other negative reviews about IVHQ said were true to some extent, but they’ve improved a lot. IVHQ FB pages also deletes negative comments off of their Face Book pages so there really can’t be a real topic of discussion, so don’t drink the koolaid. I literally found old posts of people complaining about why their commentary was being deleted. I’d love for others’ to send me information as well. Some placements are in fact unprepared for volunteers. A few don’t need them. Either way, until proven wrong, I believe IVHQ benefits communities more often than not.
Ecuador felt very safe for me. As long as you exercise caution, you should be good. I kept my bag in front of me whenever I was on public transportation, and rarely had my phone out while distracted. Only one girl got robbed at knife point on her second day. She was on her phone in a park near VCE office when a local came up to her and stole her phone (threatening with the knife).
At the end of the day, I volunteered for selfish reasons. I wanted to travel. I wanted to learn Spanish. I wanted an enriching life experience. I wanted to have fun. I did all of those things. I’ve added more experience to my life and I’ve had the privilege of impacting the lives of my students and every person I’ve met on my trip (in some way or another). Would I volunteer with IVHQ again? Absolutely.