Melike Ozkan - Care & Conservation in Ecuador
Why I decided to volunteer in Ecuador
I decided to do the Care and Conservation High School Special volunteer trip during my gap year, as it was somewhere I had always wanted to visit. Did it live up to what I had seen on David Attenborough’s Galapagos documentaries? Well, it was certainly above and beyond what I could have imagined!
In high school biology there were textbook pages coveting the beauty of the Galapagos Islands, the same islands that captivated Charles Darwin himself, and contain the now infamous finches — a key species that helped propel the theory of evolution into existence! So for me, this trip was a chance to do good by volunteering and also gave me the chance to explore the scientific beauty of the islands. My main reason for picking the High School Special was because it provided my parents and myself the reassurance that we would always be with a member of staff. The staff was so nice, welcoming and really helped us settle in right away!
Staying with the host family and other volunteers
Before I made the very long (and tiring) flight from London, I was informed that there was another volunteer travelling on the same flight as me, so we were given each other’s contact details. This allowed us to talk to each other before the trip and double check what we were both bringing. Plus, our 22-hour journey and layovers gave us plenty of bonding time. When we arrived at the airport there was a member of the Projects Abroad team who greeted us and we met another volunteer that we would be staying with. It was so pleasant to meet people from different parts of the world who share similar interests and have such different lives. In total, there were four of us on the project and we all stayed with the best family in San Cristobal. As we all knew different levels of Spanish, the trip was a great opportunity for us to practice speaking it. Our host family were so welcoming and helped us feel settled in straight away. I'm so grateful to my host parents for making us feel like part of their family. We had all of our meals together, talked about each other’s days and got to know one another. We were fortunate enough to have fresh lobster (twice!), and an understanding host family that catered to all of our dietary requirements.
Care and Conservation — a worthwhile cause
I think this project gave me the best of both worlds; it allowed us to work with school children and participate in conservation activities. As I am going on to study medicine, I had worked with children in a school environment before as part of my work experience, so I was excited to see how the school setting differed in Ecuador. It was definitely an eye-opener and was a great opportunity that enabled us to support the teachers. Seeing the children make the best of what they had was very humbling. On reflection, it just goes to show how one can make the best of something, solely with a positive mind set.
After the week, we were taken on a pre-organised trip to Santa Cruz and were able to explore the larger island. Every experience was a photo opportunity! After returning, we joined the other volunteers who were already participating in conservation and became one big family. One of the highlights of conservation was the sea lion monitoring – we had to be ready at 5.20 to monitor them. We were asked to cut down invasive species of trees. This proved more challenging than we thought! All in all, being able to participate in activities that you know are actually beneficial to the environment makes it all the more enjoyable and all the tiredness and dirty clothes worthwhile.
Evening activities and saying goodbye
Throughout the two weeks, there were evening activities that we attended including salsa classes and walks along the Malecon; the sea-front filled with souvenir shops and cafes. The Projects Abroad staff showed us around the local area upon arrival and we were introduced to the other volunteers which gave us all lots to talk about. After the two weeks, we all became so close and I now have three new best friends. Since we spent all of our time together, the thought of not seeing some of them (probably forever) was upsetting. They are some of the craziest, funniest and interesting people, and we have shared such an amazing experience together.
Whenever I feel nostalgic I simply look through my phone and the many videos and photos we took and just laugh to myself. We were even able to exchange details with our host mother and still speak to her regularly. The cultural exchange, the setting, and the whole vibe was amazing. This was thanks to the hard work of the Projects Abroad team. The sea lions, lava cakes, my host family and, of course, George the tortoise, will be missed dearly.
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.