Living in a place that was away from the hustle and bustle of the usual tourist spots gave me a greater insight into the Ecuadorian way of life.
I enjoy volunteering because it allows me to stay in one location for a more extended period and really get to know the local area, people, and culture. It also gives me the opportunity to meet like-minded people, learn new skills and give something back to the community.
There is also the bonus that volunteering while travelling is a great way to save money and extend a trip. During my travels, I have met a lot of people working volunteer jobs to help stretch the budget. And there are plenty of volunteering networks out there, with most offering food and accommodation in exchange for five hours of work a day.
During my ten months travelling around South America, I have had a variety of jobs, including working in hostels, gardening and childminding—but by far my favourite experience was the time I spent building houses in Ecuador. It was hard, physically demanding and dirty- and I loved every minute of it. I learned a lot of new things, not only about building but a lot about myself too. I worked with a fantastic group of people and made some lifelong friends.
I spent two and a half months in a sleepy little indigenous village called El Cubinche, half-way between Otavalo and Quito, in Northern Ecuador. Surrounded by rolling hills and views of both the Cotopaxi and Cayambe volcanoes, the village sits in a rural area with not a lot there besides livestock, crops and a few local farmers. My accommodation was basic, with no creature comforts—not even a washing machine. Living in a place that was away from the hustle and bustle of the usual tourist spots gave me a greater insight into the Ecuadorian way of life.
The project that I volunteered for was in the beginning stages and supported by the local community. It was working towards becoming a self-sustainable agro-ecological school, promoting sustainable ways of farming. The construction of the buildings was the first step towards reaching their goals. During my time there I worked on and helped finish five buildings, a kitchen, bathroom, and three houses. I learned how to build using natural methods and materials, like mud, straw, and bamboo. I also discovered that I was really good at plastering and within a couple of weeks I was known (at my insistence) as the “Plaster Master”. I even got to teach new volunteers my newly acquired plastering skills.
The volunteer crew was a big group, and depending on the week, there were anywhere between 8 and 17 people. Living, working and cooking with so many people certainly had its challenges, but we mostly got on well and had a lot of fun together. Our weekends were spent exploring the local area, visiting the nearby towns or just sitting around the fire having a few drinks and lots of laughs. With so many people from different backgrounds and cultures living together, we had the opportunity to exchange languages and learn from each other. I was able to practice my Spanish, teach English and even learn some French cooking.
For me, volunteering offers a different way of travelling, and I am thankful for the opportunities I had, the things I learned and the people I met. If you have time on your hands, it is something I would highly recommend.
Author - Mel Mulry
Mel Mulry is from Australia. She is a writer and photographer with a passion for slow travel.