I personally love animals and love working with and learning about them (especially new species I have no knowledge of). I was also interested in working on a project involving the environment and conservation. As this was my first time volunteering, but also my first time on a big trip abroad by myself, I (along with my family) had several worries before I travelled. Kaya was very helpful and addressed all of my questions/worries. One of the Kaya coordinators told me that volunteering is probably the best way to travel solo, as you have the ability to meet new people and others in your situation.
As part of the program, you will help prepare the food for the animals, clean cages and provide the animals with fresh food and water daily. Other duties included constructing new structures or fixing existing structures for the inside of the animal cages or helping to fix things (cages, steps, etc.) around the Centre. Every other week, the volunteers and staff would also go to teach a lesson about various environmental issues to the children at the local school.
There were many highlights I would say. Just being able to see and learn about new species in the world (especially the Amazon Rainforest) was great. Specifically spending extra time with the species that were not going to be re-released into the wild (the songo songo and the coati) was very special and meaningful. I loved taking a tour of the new project site and the family’s plantations by trekking into the Amazon. They let us try different fruits they had there and it was just interesting to experience how they live and work every day. Getting to explore the nearby cities on weekends was also a fantastic cultural experience. In addition, before I had left, I had read that soccer is a big sport in Ecuador so I decided to bring a soccer ball as a gift to the children at the local school. They absolutely loved it and were so happy! It was very touching to see how much this one simple gift meant to the children.
I would recommend that anyone considering this project actually has a genuine love or appreciation for animals. The work isn’t necessarily the most glamorous, so if you don’t truly care about the animals you may not take as much pride in your work which is only going to affect their living conditions and well-being. The main purpose of the Centre is to look after the animals and, as a volunteer, you are there to help them with this objective. You shouldn’t expect to be catered to or to be living in style. I would also fully recommend anyone participating in this project or volunteering in Ecuador to do is to learn Spanish. You don’t have to be fluent by any means, but the people really appreciate if you try and can communicate on some level. I only went to Ecuador with basic Spanish skills and found it a bit difficult. Lastly, I would recommend anyone participating in this program to be flexible. I found there were minor aspects of the program that I knew about before my trip, that were not entirely accurate once I got there. I have learned that although you may have expectations for a trip, it likely won’t turn out exactly the way you think it will. You may think this means your experience won’t be as great, but in reality it just means your experience will be different. This is one of the most important things I’ve learned from my experience- to learn to be flexible and to understand that you can take new (and unexpected) things away from a trip.