I will be celebrating my boyfriend’s 29th birthday and packing frantically for my next-day departure to Quito, Ecuador. Yes, I am a last minute packer. Yes, I am such a bad girlfriend that I’m leaving my love for six months the day after his birthday, but, the tickets were two-thirds the price on that day than any day surrounding it within a three-week period. I don’t understand it, but I just had to book that day. Poor guy.
Anyway, in roughly three weeks I am leaving! I figured I had better explain why.
For literally years (the idea was planted in my head [not Inception style… at least I don’t think it was] in 2004 on Guatemala trip #1, but became a necessary plan in 2007, during Guatemala trip #2), I have known that I had to volunteer in a South American country after graduating from college. I graduated May of last year, so this is a little bit later than I had planned, but it is actually happening. My requirements for an organization were: needed to be in a Spanish-speaking area, needed to be a cause I could believe in, would not set me back financially, and I would prefer it if I could use my teaching skills and work with children. While working jobs that helped me build up a bit of an income and bide my time at home, I researched and applied to a few organizations, including Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Peace Corps, and Waves of Hope. It was not until March of this year, after flirting with a few other organizations, I committed to Teach English, Volunteer!
Months back, after I had agreed to work with TEV, the woman in charge of managing the volunteers forwarded me a prospective volunteer’s email which expressed excitement at having found TEV on the internet (much like my initial email to the organization) and contained several questions. One thing I love about this organization is the community feel among past, present, and prospective volunteers. I have, on many occasions, received assistance from former volunteers who are from France, the UK, and the US. So I was happy to help my Ecuadorian boss out by responding to this young maybe volunteer. Here is the email I sent her. It’s basically my reasons for signing on with TEV, the things that made it stand out to my liking:
Actually, I’m heading to Ecuador this September to work with TEV! I have not yet volunteered with the organization, but what I’ve learned about it over the last several months has convinced me that it’s an organization worthy of many months of my life. What set it apart from other nonprofits were the following:
Living with a host family- this thrills me. I didn’t want my volunteer experience to be one in which I was separate from the people I was serving, living in some complex with other foreigners. I know that by living with Ecuadorians, I will soak up the culture and language must faster, and will bond more closely with the community than I may if I was living in a separate unit. I know it will be more “rustic,” and will mean doing with much less, but I want to live just like those I will be teaching. I know that living simply for the 6 months I’m planning on being there will teach me how to live with less once I’m back in the US. Hopefully, this mindset will keep me thinking of others even as I’m back home in my comfort zone, and will remind me that I can keep less of my income and give more of it to those who need it.
It’s free!- I understand why many organizations have to charge their volunteers- lodging is never free, nor is food, and usually, the projects the organization focus on are in need of funding. However, when I decided early in my college career that I wanted to volunteer in South America after graduating, I didn’t consider how difficult it would be to find an affordable volunteer program. After graduating and becoming discouraged by all of the programs that cost thousands of dollars, I stumbled upon Teach English, Volunteer! and was beside myself with excitement. I like that the service we will offer as English teachers means so much to the communities of Chimborazo province that people are willing to pay us in making room in their homes for us. It’s a trade-off in which both parties win. And it means I don’t need to save up ten thousand dollars before heading to Ecuador.
We are providing a needed good- While combing through the numerous volunteer possibilities, I found many that I though may be fun to be a part of, but wondered how much of a difference their services were really making. With TEV, we can be sure that we are providing our students with a skill- speaking English- that will carry them far in what is becoming an increasingly global world. I’m a teacher, so the work of TEV resonated with me. I guess everyone has different passions and is drawn to different work. For me, teaching English to children who would benefit greatly from knowing it sounds like the perfect volunteer opportunity.
A big selling point for me was TEV’s location. As a teacher at a very diverse school in the US, I’m very aware of how important it is for today’s teachers to speak Spanish. I have a basic level of Spanish, but want desperately to become fluent. I know that after living in Ecuador, basically completely immersed in the language, for a school term, I will speak much more fluently. When looking at volunteer organizations, I centered in on Central or South America. Maybe you’re not being as picky, I don’t know.
I guess those were what won me over to TEV. I can let you know more about it once I’m there in September. I’m going through the process of obtaining a visa, buying my plane ticket, trying to practice my Spanish, and preparing myself for many months away. Please let me know if you have any other questions. Good luck in deciding!
There you have it. The gist of my Ecuadorian excursion. Teaching English to kids, living with a host family (in the Topeka-sized city of Riobamba), hopefully soaking up Spanish. I’m thrilled. You’ll be hearing more about it in the weeks and months to come.