I Love Ecuador – Part 1

by Narelle Webber on Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Volunteering in Ecuador

This was our bunkhouse for the project. Typical style of accommodation - raised well above the ground to keep out of the rain. Chickens, dogs, and other critters running around everywhere.

I love Ecuador for so many reasons. The people are welcoming, the landscapes are breathtaking and the travel experience is unlike any country I have ever been to. ISV volunteers will see it all in Ecuador, from the snow-capped peaks on the incredible Cotopaxi volcano, to the sun drenched shores of the lazy surf town Montanhita!

What surprises me is how few ISV travellers know anything about Ecuador. And what makes me smile is how surprised ISV volunteers are when they realize the incredible diversity Ecuador has to offer. Ecuador is home to the Amazon jungle, the Andes Mountains, the Galapagos Islands and is one of the most diverse ecological areas on the planet, with 15% of the world’s known bird species. But much of this is in jeopardy, because of extreme environmental issues such as deforestation and pollution from oil production.

Away from the coast, in the heart of the country, ISV works with the local Indian tribes and villages in the Amazon Rainforest. I myself volunteered within one of these communities in 2009 and had my life changed forever after being welcomed into a Quechua community rich in traditions. These Quechua Indians have had their communities torn apart by the commercial growth and development within their home country. Imagine being forced from your land; losing not only your home but your livelihoods and the links to your traditions.

Fun with kids in Ecuador

Having some fun with local Quechua kids in Ecuador. They would put flowers on their nose and make bird sounds!

Our volunteers work with these unique communities to restore the connections to their heritage, while creating a better future through sustainable food production, eco-tourism practices, recycling programs and environmental education.

I find these community projects are also a lot of fun as you get to try local traditions like making your own chocolate from cacao plants in your free time. Our community leader took us on an EPIC trek through the Amazon Rainforest and showed us all kinds of amazing bush medicine and food sources. I even tried lemon ants. YUM.

If you’re stuck between choosing a conservation or a community development project, then Ecuador is the perfect choice for you as it combines conservation with community development so that you get a chance to work in both areas. For example, on one project in Ecuador, you will spend part of the project monitoring humpback whales; working together with the Pacific Whale Foundation. The data collected during this project is used to map habitat use of the whales which is essential for their protection and management.

Exploring the Amazon

The highlight of the trip was a 40 mile bike ride, all downhill, through the most amazing valley I have ever seen. We stopped off at waterfalls, markets, and even bungee off a bridge!

The other part of the project is spent in the local coastal community where we’ve built playgrounds for children and conducted fun and interactive environmental educational programs. More than 500 children have been involved in English lessons and environmental activities every year, we work in schools on important issues like waste management, health, nutrition and environmental awareness. A great example of the sustainable nature of our programs comes from the whale project. Local children help volunteers paint amazing murals to educate the communities about the importance of whale conservation. Each volunteer also planted a native tree with the help of a local child. Each child was then charged with protecting their tree for the next few years, watering them each day – a constant reminder of the need to protect their environment.

Also in the Amazon, ISV has a really cool wildlife rescue project that serves to rehabilitate rescued animals such as monkeys, macaws, sloths, and peccaries, which are little critters also known as “skunk pigs.”

The projects in Ecuador have so much to offer, and I guarantee you will love getting to know the locals and living the lifestyle of a South American.

Stay tuned for I Love Ecuador – Part 2 about ISV’s incredible Adventure Tour!

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