Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with Eco Volunteer UP Foundation program in Ecuador?
Bethan: I have always watched documentaries on The Amazon Rain forest and loved reading books about societies and cultures around the world. Since I was very young, it was a dream of mine to go and experience the jungle for myself. I study Anthropology at University and for my first placement it seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to go to a place I have always longed to visit.
I spent days and hours looking online for volunteering projects in the Amazon and was so excited when I came across the website for Eco Volunteer UP. The Amazon community project in Shiwakucha was just what I wanted to do and despite not knowing what to expect, I just knew I was going to have the time of my life!
After contacting Maria and Freddy, I felt confident and trusting in their organization. They responded to my questions very quickly and sent me any information I required. Once I had found this project with Eco Volunteer UP Foundation, I stopped searching for anything else and started packing and preparing for my adventure!
What made this volunteer abroad experience unique and special?
Bethan: The Amazon community project sounded brilliant. There didn't seem to be many other projects, if any, quite like this one. The website, the previous volunteer testimonials, the variety of projects that they offered and their prices were all such a contrast to the other websites I had looked at.
I really got to experience the everyday life of this amazing community. It was unique in so many ways but it was particularly special in the fact that I was living with a host family and really got to feel like a part of their family. The community were so welcoming and friendly and everybody was so easy to get along with.
The experience was unique because it didn’t just feel like I was volunteering. I was immersing myself into their Quichua culture and their livelihoods and I loved it. It is truly fascinating. Being able to expose myself to such a different viewpoint has certainly been an eye opener and a life experience.
If you could go back and do something different, what would it be?
Bethan: If I could go back and do something different, I would have decided to use my first few weeks to take Spanish lessons in the city. As a short term volunteer of two or three weeks, my lack of Spanish could have sufficed.
However, I was going to Ecuador with the intention of staying for up to six months so it was invaluable to me to learn the language and get as much out of the experience as I possibly could, especially due to the fact that I wanted to study from an Anthropological perspective.
There was such a difference with the amount I was learning about the Quichua culture once I could speak some Spanish. Planning my trip and booking the flights had been quite rushed so I didn't necessarily think my plans through sufficiently.
I went to the community for a few weeks, realized how difficult the language barriers would be on my own (once the other volunteers had left) and then decided to take two weeks of lessons in Quito before returning to the community again. Better planning was necessary!
What do you miss the most about Ecuador or your experience?
Bethan: I miss the community of Shiwakucha the most. I miss waking up to the sounds of the jungle and going to sleep to the sounds of the frogs in the stream outside the house! I miss the heavy rainfalls and trying hopelessly to be taught by the children how to climb a tree!
I miss going out in search of fresh jungle fruits and trying new foods. I miss going on short ‘camping’ trips further into the denseness of the Amazon, where the men would go out to work and hunt whilst I would stay back to go fishing and to cook over a fire with my host mother and sister.
I miss swinging in the hammocks whilst writing up my field notes and being able to bathe in the river under the heat of the jungle sun. I miss the unpredictability of what the next day would bring but knowing that any day is going to be an exciting day!
Has your worldview changed as a result of your trip?
Bethan: My worldview hasn't necessarily changed but it has expanded immensely. I have previously been exposed to different ways of life and different cultures through traveling with my family from a young age as well as on my own as I reached the age of eighteen.
What I experienced in Ecuador was far better than any book I've read or any documentary I have watched. I was there, living life in a Quichua community, somewhere in the vastness of the Amazon rain forest. I experienced excitement, apprehension, tragedy, sadness, happiness, love, contentment and bliss. It was truly incredible and I would highly recommend volunteering on this project with Eco Volunteer UP. The longer you can stay the better!