Volunteer Abroad 2015
What We Did
Our team of five arrived in Quito, Educador, late on a Sunday night. We were greeted by Patricio who took us to the small town of Tumbaco on the outskirts of Quito, where we would be doing our volunteer work. We quickly got to know some of the faces which would become familiar over the next two weeks. Giovanna, the local UBELONG representative, showed us around and introduced us to some of the other volunteers there, which included some other people from U of M! The following day we had the opportunity to visit downtown Quito and discover some of the local culture.
The next day, we got started with our English lessons. Our students ranged in age from nine years old to 18, so we had to be creative in our lessons and planning! We mixed in a variety of games to make things fun and to keep everyone active – they had so much energy! While the students practiced their English, we joined in the activities but instead practiced our Spanish, which led to some awkward and hilarious moments.
On the weekend, we explored the city of Baños and the surrounding mountains, including a hike with the most amazing views, the “swing at the end of the world”, and some crazy zip lines with even crazier poses. The excursions were exhausting but a ton of fun and we wished we could have stayed there longer. The rest of the trip went by just as fast as the first week. Between the English lessons, card games, great local meals (with lots of coffee!), and even a Zumba lesson, we barely had time to take it all in before it was time to head home. We took off from Quito with many memories that will stay with us forever.
This trip certainly had a great impact on us! All five of us learned a great deal about Ecuador and what it means to live and grow in a community such as Tumbaco. We were extremely thankful for UBELONG and the accommodations that were made available during our time in-country, and all of us walked away with a great appreciation for the people that helped this trip be so unforgettable. We hope that we were able to make an impact for the students – by the end of the second week, we had become very close with some of them and it was hard to say goodbye. While we may not have changed their lives, we like to think that we were able to improve their English a bit and that means a lot to us. It’s hard to quantify how much of an impact we had on them, but we all agree that they had a great impact on us too!
Our VA trip to India was a truly eye-opening experience. In the space of two weeks, we worked with children of all ages and had the chance to watch them learn and grow bit by bit. Even with the limited resources they had, they made the most of their education and seeing the children’s smiles and passion for learning is something that will always stay with us. While we may not have changed anyone’s life over the course of two weeks, we hope to have been able to make even a small difference. We certainly came away from the trip grateful to have been a part of it and with a new-found appreciation for the educational opportunities we have had back home.
What We Did
We spent our first two days in Peru exploring Cusco and getting to know our new home. Our guides, Nico and Archie, took us around
some of the downtown areas where we got to try out local foods such as Chifa (a combination of Chinese and Peruvian food), alpaca meatballs, and potatoes baked in earthen clay ovens. We also enjoyed the company of local artists – two of them even jumped on the bus with us to play music and sing on the way back!
On the second day, we explored some of the Incan ruins scattered in and around Cuzco and learned a great deal about the Spanish conquistadors and their impact on modern-day Peru. It was fascinating to walk among these remains and soak in the history that they had witnessed.
At night, we were hosted at Santa Maria, a guest house staffed by Peru’s Challenge, which is the organization we were working with. We were all blown away by how nice it was. Jane, the founder of Peru’s Challenge, joked that they gave us nice conditions and fed us well so we’d be able to work hard!
Our work with Peru’s Challenge began on the third day. After a short van ride up the hillsides of Cuzco, we arrived at the village of Pumamarca. While not the final destination, this village and the people we met there helped us understand some of the challenges such small communities face. Knowledge, skills, and ambition are in no short supply among the villagers, but a lack of resources and social issues such as rampant corruption create barriers which make it difficult for these people to achieve true self-sufficiency.
With this in mind, we headed to Miskiumo, a neighboring village, to start our work. There, we received a warm welcome and quickly set about our work: supporting local efforts to build a greenhouse for the village. Over the next two weeks, we dug trenches, broke rocks, and progressively put together the walls of the greenhouse. Each day, we came home exhausted but satisfied that we had put our time and effort into making a difference for this community.
On the last day of our trip, we had the joy of completing the greenhouse. This involved putting on a yellow plastic tarp roof and securing it to the walls. Finally, we had the honor of inaugurating the greenhouse by breaking a decorated champagne bottle above the doorway with a hammer, as is the custom here. As we set about leaving the work site and, after a difficult but rewarding hike, the country, our trip really began to set in for everyone. We left Peru having completed our construction project but also having taken away so much of the culture which makes Peru a truly unique place. The lessons we learned changed each of us in some way and we were all extremely grateful for this opportunity, and hopeful that we can return to Peru someday.
To follow the EGL students’ Peru experience day by day: visit their Peru Blog
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