EcuaExperience: Pre-Medical and Volunteer Programs

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Help, Learn and Discover is a student-driven volunteer organization that offers four week Pre-medical and Volunteer programs in Ecuador. These programs provide students with three main opportunities: to Help those less fortunate, to Learn first-hand knowledge about the medical field, and to Discover the amazing diversity of Ecuador. In the Help component, students use fundraised money to participate in a specific large-scale volunteer project. For example, in 2012 we built 21 homes for underprivileged families in a rural community called Pallatanga.

Students work alongside local families and are able to see the homes develop while integrating themselves into the community. In the optional Learn component, students shadow leading doctors and health professionals through eight different wards in a hospital setting.

We conclude the program with the Discover component, where students embark on an 11-day tour through the jungles, rainforests, highlands and beaches of Ecuador.

Questions & Answers

Most of our students are 18+. However, we have had students under 18 that need their parents to co-sign their contract.


based on 226 reviews
  • Impact 9.7
  • Support 9.6
  • Fun 9.1
  • Value 9.7
  • Safety 9.7
Showing 16 - 30 of 226
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Time of my life!

In July 2017 I went to Ecuador with Help Learn & Discover. I had a fantastic and memorable experience!

I didn't know what to expect from the medical rotations at first, but they turned out to be super interesting. I participated in the 28-day premed program, so I had two weeks of medical rotations. We had morning sessions from 8am-12pm, followed by lunch, then some days we had afternoon and evening sessions from 3-6pm and 6:30-9:30pm, respectively. In the morning sessions, we shadowed doctors in the ER and OR, gaining insight on interesting patient cases and sitting in on surgeries. The coolest surgery I saw was a cataract removal, viewing the surgeon’s work directly through a microscope lens. In the afternoon sessions, we learned how to do stitches using a cow's heart and studied cases related to abdominal pain. The evening sessions took on more of a lecture/tutorial format. We learned how to do CPR, withdraw blood, and read an ECG. In my second week of rotations, I was able to conduct a full clinical history on ER patients (with the help of the tutor’s translation) and give them a physical exam. Additionally I learned about radiology and sports medicine, which I had not expected to learn going into the trip. One of my favourite fields was emergency medicine, taking great interest in conducting clinical histories and diagnosing patients. I also really enjoyed learning about electrocardiographs and doing stitches.
It can be intimidating going into rotations not knowing what to expect, but it helps to get a good breakfast in each morning (as these are long days) and to bring your notebook, pen, and ironed lab coat to the hospital each day. The tutors are very educated and welcome questions from the students. They are 5th year medical students at the university in Quito, so they were very thorough and patient with us students. I learned so much over these two weeks, and I am very grateful for the tutors' expertise.

The volunteer portion of the trip was also very memorable. Our project was to build 20 homes for the community of Pujilí with the help of 3 HL&D volunteer groups. Over 5 days, we split into smaller groups to work more efficiently on the project. Some days were spent digging holes (to lay the foundation for the cement pouring of the homes), scraping, sweeping, priming, and painting interior and exterior walls of these homes. It was important to wear sunscreen and a hat to protect yourself from the heat. We had music playing while we worked, which added a fun element to the teamwork atmosphere. It was really special working on these homes with members of the community. The men and women were so hardworking; they worked from sunrise to sunset, only taking rest on Sundays. Their efforts were truly admirable.
There were a few occasions when we got to spend time with the community away from the work site. The community treated us to a welcome dinner on the first night, where we danced tirelessly with the children. I had never eaten such a hardy homegrown meal before. I also got to practice my Spanish here, learning new words to interact with the kids. After our week of work, we also got to play soccer with the community.
The accommodations while we were in Pujilí were very different from the rest of the trip. Some rooms did not have running water, and the hostel did not have heat. As such, we relied on baby wipes to clean ourselves after a day of work. I wore the same clothes each day, and left them and my runners behind for the community once we were done. In all, working and spending time with the community was so profound- I feel so fortunate to have helped build 12 homes for them and to have experienced their lifestyle. I will never forget starting off our workdays with a team huddle, chanting “H-H-HLD, HLD IN PUJILÍ”, and seeing joy and graciousness in the faces of the community members.

The travel portion of the trip was also incredible. Between exploring waterfalls in Banos and Mindo, hiking through the jungle in Misahualli, horseback riding in Cotopaxi, and shopping at the market in Otavalo, there was truly never a dull moment. With the way our schedule turned out, we had almost a week of beach towns lined up in Manta, Puerto Lopez, and Salinas after a week of hard work in Pujilí, which was a perfect way to relax a bit.
My favourite travel destinations were Banos, Manta, and Mindo. Banos is a town known as the “gateway” to the Amazon. Here we went zip-carting through the Andes Mountains, which was absolutely mesmerizing. We then went to the “swing at the edge of the world”, where we were given a great photo opportunity. We also went hiking up to a waterfall, followed by a relaxing afternoon at the spa where we had an unobstructed view of the Andes.
Manta came after a week of work in Pujilí. This was a beach town on the coast of Ecuador. We went banana boating, paddle boarding, drank coconut juice, and played in the ocean. Our hotel was very comfortable, with great space and hammocks on our balconies. Many people got sunburnt, so it was important to reapply sunscreen frequently there! Nonetheless, it was a perfect two days with all my favourite people.
Mindo was also unforgettable. There were many stray dogs there, but they were all friendly and well behaved. Here we went water rappelling; the waterfalls were 8 m, 20 m, and 40 m in height, in that order. We descended down each waterfall, the water rushing over us with every step we took. It was scary at first, but once you got a handle of the technique, you appreciated how amazing this activity was. Afterward, we went rafting down a river. With 6 people to a raft, I don’t think there was a moment where at least one person wasn’t screaming. Hitting rocks and nearly flipping backwards as we went, the experience was like Splash Mountain at Disneyland, except on a raft and in nature instead, and thus 10 times more exhilarating. It was also a great way to learn that my watch was waterproof.
Bus rides between the travel destinations were typically 2-3 hours, although there were two occasions where we rode for 8 hours. I felt the long rides were to my advantage, as I had the opportunity to catch up on my journal entries. They played movies on every ride, and we discovered an aux cord on the bus, so there were a few dance parties on our commutes.
I also paid extra to go to the Galapagos Islands, which I would definitely recommend. My experience on the islands was unbelievable, and compared to the cost of visiting the islands away from HL&D, we really got a good deal. This portion of the trip came in the first week for me, but it varies between the beginning and end of the trip depending on the month you travel.
There was a small group of 9 people during this week. Olivia was our tour guide on the islands- she was amazing. She had worked as a tour guide on the islands for 2 years previously, so she was very informative about their lifestyle, culture, and all the places we visited. The food there was unreal- we were eating seafood that had been caught and cooked that same day. The wildlife was incredible- there were sea lions and marine iguanas on all the boardwalks and benches, making it very difficult to stay at least 2 m away from all animals. The beaches were beautiful, with the softest sand I had ever touched. Snorkeling was absolutely wicked. One of my favourite days was when we rode out on a boat to two snorkel spots, seeing sea turtles, all kinds of fish, seahorses, sharks, blue-footed boobies, penguins, eagle rays, manta rays, and golden rays- the diversity was insurmountable. We also got to hike Sierra Negra, which is a caldera with the second largest diameter in the world of 10km. The hike was 5 hours in total, and afterward we still had enough energy to play 5 sets of volleyball on the beach, watching the beautiful sunset after our game.
The rooms were very safe. We did not have access to any safes, but I left my belongings in the room without a worry. I would recommend bringing about 300 USD for this portion of the trip to account for food, souvenirs, and additional costs. I also recommend bringing binoculars to the Islands to see the distant wildlife better. Some of the boat rides can be rocky, so I suggest bringing gravol too.

It may seem overwhelming to pack for all kinds of weather- sunny and hot, cloudy and breezy, rainy and humid- but try to pack the necessities, and if you happen to forget something, you have access to malls there where you can buy things. Try to pack light by bringing one of most things i.e. one rain jacket, fleece jacket, hiking/sweat pants, jeans. There are opportunities to do laundry when at Hostel 593 in Quito. I brought a duffel travel backpack with me, and I am so happy I did. For two weeks you bring this travel backpack with you instead of your suitcase (which stays in the hostel in Quito), so ideally everything you want to wear in these 2 weeks of travel should fit into the backpack. I also brought packing cubes, which were a great way to keep my belongings organized despite my bag getting tossed around. Bring a couple bottles of sunscreen. Bug repellent is only necessary in Banos, Misahualli, and Mindo (anywhere with low altitude)- one bottle is sufficient. I recommend bringing a journal to document all your amazing experiences.

I also always felt safe in Ecuador. There was never a time where I was worried for my personal safety or about whether my belongings were safe. The country is beautiful, in part because of its amazing citizens.

The trip was pricey, especially with the CAD to USD exchange. Yet I had the time of my life, and it was certainly money well spent. Juan, Jose, and Olivia are wonderful, doing whatever they could to make us happy. The students were very down-to-earth, and I am so grateful for having travelled with them. This trip was the definition of “work hard, play hard”. We learned so much from the medical rotations, and I gained so much perspective from working in Pujilí. There was never a dull moment when travelling either. Thank you HL&D for a trip to remember!

Yes, I recommend this program
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Great Experience!!

I did the 18 day pre-med program and I would definitely do it again! The volunteer portion of the trip was amazing. The community we worked with were very welcoming and it warmed my heart to see how happy they were to have us there. During the medical rotations, we were involved in both ER and OR rotations, which I learnt a lot from. The tutors made sure we knew what was going on every second during the rotations, and they were very informative. The afternoon lectures/classes were also very informative. I really enjoyed everything about the trip and would highly recommend to anyone considering. Everyone was so friendly. It is definitely worth the money.

Yes, I recommend this program
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An unforgettable experience

I went to Ecuador in May as a part of the 18-day pre-med program. Although things didn't start out how I planned with my luggage getting delayed, Jose and the staff at the hostel in Quito were very helpful right off the bat. I was able to get my luggage from the airport the next day just in time for when we left for Pujili.

The 4 days that we spent in Pujili were eye-opening and full of a lot of positivity. On the first day, we visited the homes of the people in the community and witnessed their current living conditions. It was quite amazing to see how resourceful the people were and also to know that we were going to help change their lives. This night was truly unforgettable because we met the community for the first time and they welcomed us with balloons, hugs, and hellos from each and every person. They then served us a hearty meal and we danced the night away with the little kids. It was a night full of warmth and love even though we had just met.

The rest of the days in Pujili consisted of digging holes for the foundations of the houses and we worked together with members of the community to do so. In the afternoons, we would participate in activities with the community including playing soccer, volleyball, and taking the kids to a movie. Despite the language barrier for most of us, we were still able to bond and truly enjoy our time in Pujili.

After Pujili, we went on our "explore" portion of the trip. First we went to Cotopaxi where we rode horses around an active volcano, then we went to The Swing at the End of the World, a waterfall known as the Devil's Cauldron, spent a night and hiked in the Amazon, and finished off spending the night at a 24-hour hot springs. These days were jam-packed with activities, but everything was worth seeing. The scenery in Cotopaxi was breathtaking and the time spent in the Amazon was surreal. You could hear all the bugs at night and I fell asleep to the sound of pouring rain. After two days of medical rotations in Quito, we then headed to Quilotoa lake and Canoa beach to just relax and enjoy the sun. Our last two days were spent back in Quito for another round of medical rotations.

The medical rotations in the ER, internal medicine, and the OR were very informative and fascinating. My group got to witness a rhinoplasty, myomectomy, gall bladder removal, prostate removal, and a TVT surgery. I didn't think that I would be able to see these types of surgeries up close without being in med school, but HLD really made that possible.

Overall, this experience was so worth it. I had thought about doing this type of trip earlier in my degree, but didn't end up doing it until my final year. I'm glad that I finally decided to participate in this type of program, I just wish I didn't hesitate to do it sooner. It was not only a great way to meet new people from across Canada, but it was also an opportunity to get a reality check for how lucky I am to live the way that I do. It was a chance to learn, laugh and give back.

The people I met on this trip were truly wonderful and made the experience that much better. Even though I didn't know anyone, it wasn't too long before everyone got along. Being around Jose, Juan and Ruban was just an atmosphere full of positivity and laughs and I'm so glad that I chose HLD as the organization to go on this trip with. If I have the chance, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. If you're unsure about whether or not this is the trip for you, just take a leap of faith! I literally signed up the night before the deadline and I did not regret it at all.

How can this program be improved?
Because I chose the 18-day program, the schedule for activities was very busy and we were constantly moving. I didn't mind this, but in the 28-day program there was the Quito city tour and more extensive med rotations that we had to cut out. However, I think that the 18-day program was still great and enough time to experience a lot. I also wish that I had learned a little more Spanish before my trip so that I would have been able to converse more easily with the community.
Yes, I recommend this program

Once in a lifetime, the ultimate amazing experience

I participated in the HLD May 2017 trip under the Bio-med program and it was by far the best month of my entire life!!! I met so many amazing friends and I seriously did not want to go home by the end. The initial idea to do this trip was not immediate as the price had me on edge, especially because it was all in USD which made the conversion to the Canadian dollar rough. HOWEVER, I do NOT regret this trip or the price WHATSOEVER! Believe me when I say you get what you pay for. The amount of things I saw, did, made, smelt, tasted, experienced is almost too many to count and this trip has forever changed my life. So in case you are concerned that it won't be worth your money take it from me - don't let the cost hold you back from what will be the best trip of your life.
As well, if you are concerned about going on this trip by yourself, DON'T BE! Most of the other students going will be just like you and will also be travelling solo. You get to know everyone in no time and believe me you will make life long friends!

With the Bio-med program I got a taste of everything HLD has to offer; Medical Rotations, Volunteering, Travelling, and the Galapagos. I am extremely glad I made the decision to do the Bio-med program because it gave me the option to try out everything!

For the first week I did medical rotations which involved surgical rotations in the OR, radiology, and the ER. You have to dress professionally for this part of the trip and I would suggest professional tanks and/or skirts if you are a girl as Ecuador is hot and the OR and ER are super warm and being it your first week in Ecuador you might feel too warm or lightheaded from the heat in the hospital like I did. The tutors you get during the rotations are med students that are roughly our age and are so smart!! You can ask them any questions they are super approachable and extremely knowledgeable. This first week was also jam packed with tours of Quito in the afternoon and lectures in the evening so I would suggest trying to get a good-nights sleep as you start early every morning (although this might be hard because you are having too much fun hanging out with the other students!). Overall the medical rotations gave you a good taste of what being a doctor would be like and would give you a good sense if this is what you would what to do as a career. If you are serious about going to med-school I would suggest the pre-med program as they did get an extra week of rotations than myself and were taught more.

The next two weeks consisted of exploring and volunteering. At most we would volunteer three days in a row before taking an exploring break, however this was fine because if you were to volunteer any longer than that in a row you would burn yourself out. As part of the May group I participated in starting the houses. To put it generally the May group does the digging, cementing and the floor, the July would do the walls, and the August the finish touches. I personally LOVED being part of the May group because it gave me such pure joy to do the nitty-gritty work and work as hard as I could to provide the houses for the community. The community members themselves work along side you and the Ecuadorian women with babies on their backs lifting twice as much cement as me was just motivation enough to push myself to my limits. If you are worried that you are not strong enough do not worry! Just the fact that you are there, supporting and showing effort means a lot to the community. You can take a water break at any time and go at your own pace. Each year HLD builds in a different location so housing will varying from trip to trip. I stayed in a hostel within the town Pujili that we were building in. The rooms were nothing fancy and there was no hot water but I was not expecting anything luxurious because we were in an impoverished town. Some people in past reviews have complained about a lack of hot water but to me the hostel I stayed at while volunteering was completely practical for the situation. HLD's personal cook was there and prepared the most delicious breakfasts and lunches daily while at the site. My advice would be to bring baby wipes and TONS of sunscreen. The baby wipes will keep you clean during the stay if you don't want to shower (remember it is only for 3 days at a time before you take a break and travel) and don't forget that Ecuador is at the equator - sunscreen is a must! This was my first experience building homes and it warms my heart just reminiscing about the experience. The community is so deserving and welcoming I am so proud to say I was a part of building their new dream homes.

For the traveling portion the quickest way to sum it up was "What an ecuaexperience!". HLD never lets you get bored! I can honestly say I got to see the country Ecuador in its entirety. We visited Cotopaxi (active volcano) and went horse back riding, Banos (edge of the amazon) where we swung at the end of the world and did a traditional Ecuadorian spa, Canoa (the coast) where we went surfing, and Mindo (cloudforest) where we did waterfall repelling and white-water tubing to name a few of my favourite activities. Ecuador is an amazing country with a crazy landscape! We traveled from 4000m in the mountains to sea level at the coast and back multiple times during the trip. This meant breathtaking views as well as varying weather conditions. On my trip the temperature changed from 5 degrees and rainy in Cotopaxi to close to 30 degrees and sunny in Canoa. My advice is to make sure you pack for all kinds of temperature and weather.

My last week was in the Galapagos. Even if you did not choose the Bio-med program I highly recommend you add the Galapagos week onto your trip as it was the most amazing and unique place I have ever been too and will absolutely be worth your money (compared to traveling their on your own vacation, the HLD price is a steal of a deal). We stayed on Island Isabella and Island Santa Cruz and did a lot of hiking, snorkeling and learning! Each tour we did (kayaking, volcano, los tunneles) was occupied by a naturalist guide that knew everything about the flora and fauna of the Galapagos. To get the most out of the "Bio" part of the Bio-med program I suggest you take advantage of these guides and ask them all your questions. The animals are not scared of you at all there because of the strict no touching rule which allows for unique up-close interactions that you could never experience elsewhere! The sea lions are as common as dogs in mainland Ecuador and to quote my guide, "there are as many sea turtles as stars in the sky". If you love seafood you must try the seafood in the Galapagos! Extremely fresh (caught a couple hours ago) and you might get to try some interesting fish (such as swordfish which is delicious). My biggest recommendations for the Galapagos would be bring a water shirt - the water can get cold when you are snorkeling for a long period of time and the shirt helps to keep you warm as well as protects your back from getting sun burnt. Secondly if you are at all susceptible to motion sickness - BRING GRAVOL. The ferry rides from one island to the next are about 2 hours long and some of the tours involve traveling on boats. The water is rocky (especially if you go in the later months) and Gravol will be your best friend because you don't want something like motion sickness getting in the way of your fun!

Lastly I was to comment on the lovely HLD leaders and staff: Juan, Jose, and Olivia. Juan is in charge of the medical rotation portion. I only got to see him for a week but he is hilarious and personable and will care for you like family. The pre-med students got to know him more and would have nothing but great things to say. Jose is in charge of the volunteer and traveling portion. Jose is so much fun, he is always making sure that everyone is having the time of their lives. Both of them are such great guys that have an unbelievable love for their country and do an amazing job in getting you to fall in love with it as well. Last but certainly not least is Olivia. Olivia was the Bio-med students personal tour guide during the first week in Quito so we developed a strong relationship with her. You will not meet someone with more happiness than Olivia. She brought a smile to my face and I loved listening to her explain what we were doing and what we were going to be seeing/learning that day. Olivia was also the leader that joined us in the Galapagos. She use to live there so she was the perfect guide as she knew all the best places in town for food, shopping, and night life. I want to take the time to thank all three of them for giving me the ultimate experience and the chance to help, learn, and discover in the beautiful Ecuador!

How can this program be improved?
I honestly have no complaints about the HLD program. There are always things that people can be nit-picky about but overall Juan and Jose have crafted a program that will give students the best combination of learning, helping, and discovering the beauties of Ecuador. My only wish was that I got to volunteer for more than the days provided but at the same time I did not want to miss out on anything else they had planned for us. Therefore, the only improvement would be to offer an program longer than 28 days!
Yes, I recommend this program

Best month ever!!!

I had so much fun and learned so much over my month spent in Ecuador! My trip was comprised of three components: medical rotations, volunteering and travel!

The medical rotations were very well organized and I learned so much. The tutors were so helpful and challenged students. We were able to shadow physicians and surgeons in a variety of specialties, exposing us to many different aspects of medicine. We also learned practical skills such as stitching, drawing blood and casting to name a few. I would completely

For the volunteering aspect of the trip, we helped in the construction of homes that we had fundraised to complete. This summer 20 homes will be built for the community members. The community was so welcoming and grateful, we worked alongside them at the construction site and their work ethic was truly inspiring. The work was physically tiring but knowing that we were improving the lives of so many made it easy!

For the travel portion, we traveled all over Ecuador to coastal cities and towns such as Mindo and Canoa as well as in the mountains to places such as Cotopaxi, for such a small country Ecuador has an incredibly varying landscape and we got to see it all. In each place we had activities planned, we were always doing something fun! We were able to hike through the Amazon rainforest, go waterfall repelling, horseback riding, surfing and see so many beautiful sights to name a few activities we participated in!

Help, Learn & Discover provides an incredibly unique opportunity, not many companies provide the perfect mix of learning, volunteering and adventuring like they do! I always felt safe and they take very good care of all the students that travel with them. 28 days with HLD was just not enough!

How can this program be improved?
Be prepared for some long travel days (up to 12 hours), I did not mind the long bus rides but it is something to be aware of. Also be prepared to live out of a duffle bag or backpack for about 2 weeks.
Yes, I recommend this program
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First of I'd like to say, if you are having a hard time trying to decide whether or not you want to go on this trip, definitely GO! This has been the most incredible month of my life, and I promise you will have an amazing time as well!

I first heard about HLD through the SFU2016 Facebook page. I had been looking for a volunteer abroad program to do in the summer and right away I knew this would be the perfect fit for me. I was DEFINITELY right! These past 28 days in Ecuador and the Galapagos with HLD have been absolutely incredible. I did the Biomed program, meaning I first got to do 4 days of medical rotations, followed by activities, volunteer work, a trip to the coast and finally a week in the Galapagos islands. Although the days were jam packed and we were constantly on the move, I wouldn't have changed a thing about how our schedule played out!

The first week was definitely a crazy one. Being part of the biomed group, we had to fit everything the Premed group did in two weeks into one. This meant our days were schedule like this: 4 hours of med rotations (OR, ER and radiology) in the morning, a tourist activity in the afternoon (we visited churches, downtown Quito and the middle of the world) and finally a lecture in the evening (we did abdominal pain, stitches, fractures, headache and drawing blood). All in all this first week was absolutely amazing and was filled with incredible opportunities to see, learn and do things that we would never have the chance to experience in Canada as Pre-med students. Juan and Olivia definitely made sure we would get the most out of this first week. The medical tutors were also very knowledgeable, friendly and welcomed questions at all times.

After the first crazy week, we spent our weekend horseback riding in Cotopaxi, swinging at the end of the world in Banos, hiking in the jungle, and finally relaxing at the hot springs in Papallacta. All of these environments had much different weather patterns (ranging from Cotopaxi being at about 2 degrees, to the jungle being 25 and humid), so definitely pack well and be ready for any kind of weather!

We then travelled to the volunteer site (this year in Pujili) and spent 3 days volunteering with the community to begin building 12 of the 20 houses the HLD 2017 group fundraised for. I was absolutely blown away by the people of the community. They were all very welcoming, grateful and patient with our group. They also had the most admirable work ethic, and I felt very fortunate to be working alongside these individuals knowing how much these houses will help change their lives. As for the work itself, be prepared for a lot of lifting, digging and sifting (if you're part of the May group) so bring clothes that can get dirty and can afterwards be left for the community!

The second weekend was spent at the Coast. Here we had the opportunity to relax, learn to surf and have fun with friends! The UV index in Ecuador is normally 11, so my one biggest recommendation is BRING LOTS OF SUNSCREEN!! Even if you don't normally burn, you will burn if you don't wear sunscreen, trust me.

Finally we returned to Pujili for a few more days at the volunteer site and for a heartfelt goodbye to the community. We then headed to our last stop in the "Discovery" part of the tour in Ecuador: Mindo. Mindo was definitely my favourite place we visited in Ecuador. Here, we not only got to live in mushroom shaped cabins, but we also got to do activities I otherwise would probably never have done in my lifetime: water rappelling and tubing down a fast river.

We then travelled to the Galapagos islands (which is a 2hour flight from Quito) where we spent 1 day on the main island, Santa Cruz, and 4 days on another island: Isabela. In the Galapagos, we had the opportunity to explore the most incredible beaches, kayak, hike a volcano and of course go snorkelling. I have travelled to many beautiful places in the world, but I have never seen a more diverse and incredible ecosystem as the one in the Galapagos. We saw sharks, stingrays, blue footed boobies, penguins, turtles, sea lions, tortoises, marine iguanas, and the most beautifully coloured fish! Everyday we were accompanied by a naturalist guide. Every guide was extremely knowledgeable and friendly. Olivia, our HLD Galapagos guide, was also a great person to have with us in the Galapagos as she had previously lived there. She knew exactly where the top places to eat and the best activities on the islands were, and she insured that we had the most incredible week imaginable!

As a last note, I just wanted to thank Jose, Juan and Olivia once again for everything they provided for us during our stay, and for all of the effort they put in into making sure we got the most out of our 28 day stay. I would also like say that if you're having a hard time trying to decide wether or not you want to add a week in the Galapagos, definitely DO IT. It will hands down be the most incredible experience of your life!

How can this program be improved?
I definitely would not change anything about the itinerary of the trip, however it would have been nice to know how long we'd be gone from Quito. Before arriving, we were told to bring a suitcase and a duffel bag for "overnight stays." Well, the overnight stay was actually 16 days, and seeing as we had to dress for cold weather, hot weather, the beach and the volunteer site, we all found it quite difficult to pack everything necessary into one bag.
Yes, I recommend this program
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HLD in Pujili - Trip of a Lifetime!

I'm reading some of the previous reviews and I honestly don't understand how some people didn't like the trip - it was incredible. I've partaken in other volunteer programs before and this was by far the best one I've been to. I participated in the Bio-Med program through HLD, the program had three main components: Medical rotations, Volunteer program, and a week in the Galapagos.

The trip began in Quito with medical rotations. The rotations lasted one week. We had 4-hour medical rotation in the mornings. In the afternoons we toured Quito and came back after supper for either a lecture or practical training (such as stitching, making casts, or drawing blood). Our days were incredibly packed! We would wake up at 6:30 am to get ready for rotations and go to bed sometimes as late as 11 (as after our lectures our group would stay up playing card games). The rotations were amazing! We were able to see 7 different surgeries in 2 days and spent the other days in the ER and Radiology. The tutors were very helpful and would ask you questions to make sure you understood what was going on in surgery. I learned way more than I expected to. The practical skills we participated in was definitely a highlight - learning how to stitch was amazing, and I had so much fun drawing blood from a patient for the first time. I wasn't a huge fan of the lectures - If I could change one thing I would replace the lectures with more hands-on activities. I also wish we could have spent more time doing rotations. However, that being said - I honestly do not know where HLD would have fit that in without adding on an extra week. Every activity we did was so much fun and all the leaders were super accommodating! They weren't happy if you weren't happy. They also weren't overly happy if your group was late to any of the activities - but considering how packed our schedule was it was easy to understand why.

The next portion of the trip was the volunteer program. The volunteer portion spanned over 2 weeks; however, we didn't spend every day at the volunteer site. Every weekend we participated in touristic activities throughout Ecuador - as we made our way to the volunteer site. This consisted of spending time in the Rainforest, visiting the coast, or going to hot springs. It was really nice to break up the trip with these fun activities. However, it wasn't overly clear how much time we actually spent working on the site - for our group we spent a total of 6 days in the community (it would have been 5 if our group didn't ask to stay an extra day). That being said - we accomplished a lot in this time period and I felt it was enough time in the community. Jose (the volunteer coordinator and one of the founders of HLD) was fantastic. He was very clear how the selection for housing went. He also made sure that the way our fundraised money was spent was completely transparent and that the volunteers were able to buy the material directly to ensure there was no ambiguity in money spending. I was very glad I chose to go on the trip in May - the weather was very nice and clear (only rained heavily 3 times while I was there which was a lot less than I expected for the rainy season). I also felt I was more helpful to the community as the work required heavy lifting, moving materials, and digging trenches. It was nice to see how appreciative the community was of our work at the good-bye dinner they made for us. I loved that we were fortunate to see other communities HLD helped build in the area. It demonstrated how these homes will provide not just a short term impact - but will continue to impact their lives long term. It was incredibly touching and an experience I won't forget.

The third and final portion of our program was a trip to the Galapagos. In my program, only 8 people participated in this portion of the tour. I really liked how small our group was - as it enabled us to be more flexible when it came to activities and meals. The Galapagos itself was amazing - by far the most beautiful place I've ever been to in my life. We were fortunate to see sea lions, marine iguanas, flamingos, penguins, sea turtles, reef sharks, sting rays, sea horses, and a huge variety of fish and coral. We snorkeled every day, and at one location I was surrounded by 5 sea turtles - I was speechless! Our leader who came with us (Olivia) lived in the Galapagos for a while, so she knew the best places to go to eat, snorkel, and relax were. This definitely made the experience way better! I would go back to the Galapagos in a heart beat.

Overall the trip was amazing - the founders were incredibly accommodating. If you have any complaint they will do as much as they can to fix whatever problem you have. Our group needed to do laundry one day and the all-inclusive we stayed at was expensive. So Jose spent an entire day looking for a laundry place for us that was reliable and affordable. He then spent the next day making sure it was all done on time and sorted out how much everything cost - we literally had to worry about nothing. Juan was just as accommodating and would be the first person there to support you if you were having trouble. I would recommend this program to anyone - even if you've never planned on going to Ecuador, you'll be pleasantly surprised what the country has to offer.

How can this program be improved?
I wish it would have been more clear why we needed the duffle bags for our tour. I was under the impression it was for our stay in the Galapagos. It turned out it was for the volunteer portion of the trip - so I ended up packing 16 days worth of clothing into a small duffle bag. It was manageable, but if I had known that before I left, I would have thought differently about some of the things I packed for the trip and brought a larger bag. Other than that I have no complaints and would recommend the experience to everyone!!
Yes, I recommend this program
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Life Changing

I just returned from Canada after spending 28 days in Ecuador with the EcuaExperience Bio-Med program. I can not say enough good things about this trip. The trip was comprised of four main components which are medical rotations, volunteering, travel and finally a visit to the Galapagos islands.

The medical rotations were very well done. The tutors were very knowledgable and challenged students to think critically. We learned a tremendous about of valuable information about medical issues and shadowed physicians in specialities such as surgery, emergency and radiology. If you are aspiring to be a doctor, I would 100% recommend this program as it gives insight into the true lives of professionals in a hospital setting.

Our volunteer project was in a community in Pujili. With the money fundraised by the volunteers, it is estimated that 20 houses will be built for the community members by the end of the summer. The people of the community welcomed us with open arms and we were given the opportunity to work along side them at the construction site. Their work ethic was truly inspiring and their gratitude for this project was so obvious. The work was challenging but it was made easy knowing that we were improving the lives of so many people.

As for the travel portion, we travelled all over the country of Ecuador to different cities such as Mindo, Banos and Canoa. At each stop, we had many activities planned for us that were unique to Ecuador and helped immerse the volunteers in the culture. For example, we were given the opportunity to hike through the Amazon rainforest and learn to surf. Travel from location to location could be quite long (upwards of 12 hours) so I would definitely recommend bringing personal entertainment, however the bus is equipped with a TV so there is always movies to watch on the long drives.

We then took a plane to the Galapagos islands. It should be noted that the Galapagos is a national park with a delicate ecosystem and they are therefore very strict about the item that can enter the island. For example, I brought my same sneakers from the Ecuador portion of the trip and I was made to wash them before I could go through security. Once in the island, it was truly amazing. You are guaranteed to see so much wildlife. All of the naturalist guides who accompanied us on our day tours had extensive knowledge about the islands and the animals and plants that inhabited them. It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen and if you are looking into EcuaExperience and are debating whether or not to go to the Galapagos, definitely GO.

Overall I would say that Help, Learn & Discover is a truly unique company. They take wonderful care of their students and ensure that we are always safe, happy and healthy. By the end of the 28 days, I felt like I was apart of a new little family!

How can this program be improved?
At one point in the trip, we left Quito (and our luggage) and travelled for over 2 weeks without the opportunity to exchange any clothing and we needed to pack a bag with every thing we needed for those 2 weeks. I think it should be more clear that you may be without your luggage for an extended period. I personally only had one small (30L) backpack to pack everything and struggled to bring everything I needed.
Yes, I recommend this program
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One month of unforgettable experiences!

I went to Ecuador with HLD for the 28 day Pre-med program. It has 3 components: the medical rotations, the volunteering, and the tourism.

The medical rotations were so much fun, we learned so much and saw many things that we otherwise would not have been able to see back home, such as surgeries and doctor/patient relationships.

The tourism was spread out between the days, and everything we saw was very beautiful, full of Ecuadorian history and fun.

The volunteering part was also great, we got to meet the people of the Communities and we got to spend time with their children. Our group did the foundation of the houses, very hard work, but we did it alongside Community women who carried children on their backs as the mixed ciment. Their work and living conditions taught us another reality, so different from my own, and this made me appreciate life greatly.

How can this program be improved?
I was told we would do more volunteering than we actually did. The volunteering should be 1/3 of the time in, Ecuador, I understand that it is hard to find work for teenagers who dont speak the language, but I had signed up for the program thinking I would spend 10 days volunteering.

Other than that, everything else was great!
Yes, I recommend this program
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Experience of a lifetime

I just returned from one of the best months of my life down in Ecuador with Help learn Discover! :) HLD is an amazing volunteer program offered to students. It allows students to shadow doctors in various departments at three different hospitals (pre-med program), help build 21 homes for a community in need (this year in Pujilí) and travel all around Ecuador.

First we completed the learn aspect of the trip where we got to watch surgeries in the OR, study cases in the ER, spend a day in the Gastrology and Sports Medicine units, draw blood, learn to do stitches, put on casts and more. Each day we would start our rotations at 8am and go until 12pm at the hospital. We were put in groups of two or three and paired with a tutor who would translate and teach us throughout the rotation. Then in the afternoons we would do class room sessions on various topics such as fractures, headaches, abdominal pain, etc. to learn more about general topics.

Next was the help component where we travelled to the town of Pujilí to start building 20 new homes for a community there. We did various tasks such as digging trenches for the foundation, mixing cement, getting water from the river, moving cinder blocks, transporting rocks and tying rebar. Every morning when we arrived at the work site, all the members of the community would be there to welcome us and say good morning. Every single person would shake your hand and then we would all work together on the various tasks for the day. In the evening when we were done for the day, we would do a cheer and say good bye. We had the opportunity to play with the kids often and even got to play a game of soccer with everyone.

Last but not least was the discover part of the trip. This part of the trip allowed us to travel to many different cities and towns in Ecuador including Quito, Banos, Canoa, Cotopaxi, Manta, Barcelo and Mishualli. We participate in activities such as surfing, horseback riding, tubing, canyoning, hiking, swimming and relaxing.

All in all, this was an experience of a lifetime and I'm proud to say I will be going back next year to spend another month with this amazing program!

How can this program be improved?
I can't think of anything I would change about this trip. There was not one thing that didn't contribute to the experience and make it so amazing. :)
Yes, I recommend this program
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Best Trip of my life

Over the month of May we went to Ecuador and stayed for two weeks in the town of Quito to do medical rotations. During those two weeks we got to do medical rotations everyday and it was the most amazing experience of my life. We got to see a knee replacement surgery, a C-section, a gall bladder removal surgery and various others while being inside the operating room. Our tutors could answer any questions we had and the doctors would also explain their process which was fantastic. At the hotel, we would eat great breakfast everyday and I felt very safe all the time. During the two weeks we rotated through the ER, OR, the sports medicine department, gastro, and internal medicine. Although the program was very focused academically, we were also able to do fun things like visit the old town, go to the Otavalo market and also to apply what we learned to hands on experiences such as learning how to do stitches, how to make a cast, and how to draw blood. The lectures were usually 3 hours long but very interesting and interactive. I learned a great deal. More than I expected.

After the two weeks when we started to go around the other parts of Ecuador I had the best time in the world as we went to amazing places. Juan and Jose always made sure that we were safe and that we had fun. It was great because the schedule was always flexible and they wanted to hear our input as to how everyone felt about doing a certain activity. So everyone was always happy. We went to the Amazon rainforest, swing at the end of the world, and other unique locations. The volunteer portion was amazing as we got to lay the foundation for houses in the community along side the people who were going to live there with their families and we became their friends. It was great to have the opportunity to communicate with those people and their children and I could feel the impact of our work there everyday.

Overall, this was the best month of my life and I would recommend this program to anyone who wants to have a life changing experience over the summer. I already miss my friends and all the people who work with HLD and I am thankful to have been a part of this experience.

How can this program be improved?
Some hotels did not have hot water, such as the hotel we stayed in at Pujili to do volunteer work. However, I still found it manageable as we always went to new locations. Also, it did not matter if we needed anything or forgot to bring anything from home as they always took us to a mall to get the things we needed. So I was always happy and comfortable during the trip.
Yes, I recommend this program
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Fun But I Expected More

After reading online reviews for HLD, I was super excited to go on this trip. However, in the end I was somewhat disappointed with my experience.

Help - The volunteering portion of the trip was an overall good experience. Due to the earthquake we could not get to Jama to build the houses, so we built them in Manta instead. It was really hot in Manta, and the location we built the houses was a fish factory, so it was pretty smelly. Due to being in Manta, we didn't have much opportunity to interact with the families much like groups in past years did, so that was a little disappointing. I felt like that would add to the experience, however there wasn't much we could do about it. We did get to visit some of the victims of the earthquake in a nearby refugee camp. We played with the children and played soccer. Some portions of the construction of the houses was sketchy. We had to stand on rusty barrels to reach higher areas when working, which personally made me uncomfortable. We definitely lost a lot of productivity because we were constantly drilling through the metal on the shipping containers and breaking drill bits. During this week we ended up sleeping in tents and we only had one shower and toilet for the group. We got very dirty and sweaty at the construction site, so this was obviously a bit of an issue. They also hire some workers to do a lot of the work. We got to go to the beach twice during this week which was nice.

Learn - I completed the physiotherapy program, which was new for this year. There were definitely a lot of kinks to be worked out. I was the only pre-physiotherapy student, so I was often left alone to find my way through the hospital and to buy my food for supper, which was difficult because I know zero Spanish. The physiotherapist I worked with was great, he taught me a lot. However he only came into work in the afternoons, so I only got to complete approximately 4 hours per day. I lost one day to the sports medicine rotation and one day to traveling on the Friday afternoon, so I only completed 3 days with the physio for a total of ~12 hours. I was expecting something more like a 40 hour work week to gain experience for when I apply to physiotherapy school, but I was wrong. I was thrown in with the pre-med students for the rest of the time, which some of the stuff like surgeries were cool, however most of it was boring to me (I don't want to be a doctor) and/or didn't apply to me. I would have preferred more physio experience. I had to write the test for the pre-med students on a case study about headaches, which I didn't enjoy at all. I didn't want to come here to study and google headaches, I wanted to go to learn hands-on skills and gain experience to help me get into physio school. No alcohol was permitted during the med rotation week, just an FYI.

Discover - This was my favourite portion of the trip. We got to hike in the amazon, go tubing in rapids, hike to a waterfall, go on the swing at the end of the world, rappel down a waterfall, among other things. Some of the stops were less exciting than others; two of them we basically went and sat in hot tubs. Most of the other participants wanted to stay up late and drink while on the discover portion of the trip. I wasn't into that as much because we had long and early bus rides (hangover? no thanks...), and some days with physically exerting hikes. The owners of HLD encourage drinking and drinking games to some degree. I was more interested in enjoying my time and seeing the country.

Other points:
-You'll spend some time playing and/or watching soccer. Soccer and volleyball are both really popular in Ecuador.
-Be prepared for long bus rides. Make sure to have music playlists ready and any other ideas to pass time.
-We got a HLD hoodie and t-shirt given to us part way through the trip. Bring lots of clothes! The only place to do laundry was at the hostel in Quito. You had to give your bag of laundry to the people to wash it, it took a day or two, and was a bit expensive (like $10 or $15 I think?).
-Although speaking Spanish is not required, I found it difficult during the med rotations when I wanted to communicate with the patients. All of the tutors speak English.
-Make sure you have lots of room in your bag going back. Alpaca wool blankets are inexpensive and popular at the markets there. I bought two blankets and a hammock to bring back.
-Bring lots of sunscreen and bug spray!!!!!!

Overall I enjoyed my experience, but I wanted to be truthful about the components I didn't enjoy about the trip.

How can this program be improved?
-Like others said, the lack of communication before the trip could be improved. I found they also started the fundraising meetings pretty last minute, although they weren't helpful in my opinion anyway.
-I was also a little concerned about where all of my money was going. We were originally supposed to stay in a hostel during the volunteer week, but we ended up sleeping in tents as a described above. We had to pay for our own dinners, as well as some other optional activities. We took a long bus ride to Manta, while the owners of HLD flew in from Quito for a few days. They wanted to get back in time for a birthday party or something, so they flew back the night before we bussed back to Quito. I hope we weren't paying for them to fly there. Some transparency would have been nice.
-There were a few times during a morning or afternoon, or even a whole day on one occasion where they basically said to hang out at the hostel and watch TV. I would have liked to do more things instead. Bernie, our trip leader, fought to get us to do more fun things but the owners didn't want us to. During the med rotations week they were worried about us not having enough time to study.
-I personally found one of the owners of HLD to be overly egotistical and it really got on my nerves.
-The itinerary that is shown on their website before the trip was way off. We got a more accurate one when we got there, however, it would have been nice to have an accurate itinerary before we got to Ecuador.
-There were other guests at the hostel that were quite noisy and there were no staff there at night to do anything about it.
Yes, I recommend this program
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H-H-H-L-D, H-L-D in Manabi

That is the chant that will never go away, the one I will always go to and think about when times get tough or I just need to think of Ecuador, it's people and the dream that was implemented, chased and accomplished by one individual years ago.
First, I owe an apology to Jose, Sum and all of those at H-L-D for taking so long to write this... you have been in my thoughts, wifi access has denied me though.
The trip overall took my breath away. Ecuador is a beautiful country with beautiful, kind people- that have little but are willing to give everything.
I had dreamed about an opportunity like this since I was little- the chance to go somewhere and help. H-L-D made my dream come true. You work hard and you play hard. All the while you meet new people from around the world- or some that could almost live next door. EcuaExperience brings those with similar beliefs and motives together, making it easy to blend and have the time of your life.
If you can do this trip- do it! Regardless of the cost- which is reasonable- an unforgettable experience is priceless and memories are forever.
Thank you for H-L-D, Jose, leaders- and one last note.... CONGRATS FOR TEACHING THE MILLION!!!!!! Wooooo hoooo :)

How can this program be improved?
Wouldn't change a thing!
Yes, I recommend this program
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HLD- best time of my life!!

When I was looking to volunteer abroad I wanted a program that encompasses many different aspects, and HLD has just what I was looking for. The first component was the volunteer where we got to Jama and build 20 new homes for the community there. This was one of the most special and life changing experiences that i’ll never forget. The community worked along side us and we really got to build those connections with the people were building houses for. Although technically we’re the ones helping them get better access to education, sanitation, work, and healthcare, they have affected my life just as much as I have affected theirs.

HLD also has the learn component which is probably what differentiates it from most volunteer programs. We had the opportunity to shadow doctors, nurses, and physiotherapists in different wards of the hospital- something I know I would never be able to do in Canada. Getting to enter the operating room and watching surgeries was an unreal experience! We also did rotations in the ER, radiology, ICU, gynaecology, sports med, and even learned hands-on clinical skills like stitching.

For the discover portion we toured different parts of Ecuador and got to do really cool activities like waterfall rappelling, horseback riding, swinging at the end of the world, tubing down the mouth of the Amazon river, and hiking in the amazon jungle. I never thought we would do SO much everyday and even though its really busy sometimes, I wouldn't have wanted it any other day.

I also decided to add on an extra week to the Galapagos, and I can say this was hands down the best place I’ve travelled to in my life. The amount of biodiversity here is unbelievable and amazing to see how humans and animals just coexist- so we were able to see and get up close to so many different animals like giant tortoises, marine iguanas, sea lions, sharks, sea turtles, penguins, flamingos, sea horses, manta rays, and so on! The activities here were really amazing as well; other than chill at beautiful white sand beaches, we visited Darwin’s Research Centre, went snorkelling, kayaking, hiked a volcano with a huge crater under us. This was probably one of the best parts of the trip and I would highly recommend going!

The memories I’ve made because of this trip are ones I’ll never forget, and Juan and Jose will make sure you’re having the best time at all times!

Yes, I recommend this program
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The time of my life!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Prior to this trip, I had so many doubts if this trip would be worth it. I couldn't have been proved more wrong after spending the best month of my life with Help, Learn & Discover!! I don't even know where to begin.....from working with the community of Jama, or watching the most insane surgeries, or spending the morning trekking through the Amazon Rainforest, swimming in a natural waterfall pool at the end of a beautiful hike, then having dinner in the gorgeous city of Banos all in the same day!!!!!!! The thing is with this trip, you're doing at least 3 new things you've never done every single day!! All of these experiences are what I could have hoped for but to top it all of, the part I never saw coming was the people you meet on this trip! To this day, now some of my best friends are because I met them through HLD. Everyone was bawling their eyes out when it was time to say goodbye!!

During the volunteer week, the most heartwarming thing was to work with the community of Jama. These families have lost so much during the earthquake that happened in April but for them to wake up every day and work their butts off for the new homes that we were helping them build was simple admirable. The craziest part about interacting with them was seeing their spirit despite all the terrible things that have happened! They were always laughing and joking around, played soccer and other games with us in the evening and when it came time to say goodbye, they cooked us dinner and crafted us small souvenirs from wood and stone..! Words won't do the justice of telling how satisfying and heartwarming it was to bring hope to people who are way less fortunate than us. It also was a good reminder to be appreciative of our standard of living back in Canada!

The med rotations were unreal..! We shadowed almost every ward possible with the coolest med tutors who were in their final year of med school and were just a few years older than us! I saw the craziest vascular surgeries, live birth, a C-section, rhinoplasty, just to scratch the surface! The med tutors would also teach us some clinical skills like stitching and CPR. Every day was a blast learning the most amazing things that only further inspire me to become a physician.

The discover part was beyond unreal! Ecuador is one of the most beautiful countries ever!! Day to day, we did so many new things I can't even keep track of! I remember one day, the morning we spent in natural hot springs in the mountains, in the afternoon we tubed down the Napo River to get to our hotel located in the middle of the Amazon and at night we slept in cabins hearing the sounds of various animals and insects everywhere!!! Every day is action packed with the coolest adventures!

Simply put, this is one the best experiences out there! It wouldn't be right if I didn't give a shout out to Juan and Jose, the owners of HLD, who will go out of their way and move mountains for you to have the best experience possible!! The energy that they bring to the group really makes the trip special and they ensure everyone is having a blast!! We had people with dietary restrictions, allergies, medical conditions and they were all provided for..!! Ultimately this trip is totally worth what you're paying for and I can guarantee you that you will not regret it whatsoever!!!!!!

Yes, I recommend this program

About Ecuaexperience

Help, Learn and Discover is an innovative organization offering educational programs in Ecuador, South America. We strive to offer a fulfilling life experience which combines helping those less fortunate with learning about a specific academic area...