"Living in a place that was away from hustle and bustle of the usual tourist spots gave me a greater insight into the Ecuadorian way of life."
There is no doubt that volunteering while traveling is a great way to save money and extend a trip. During my travels, I have met a lot of people who are 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. I enjoy volunteering because it gives me the opportunity to stay in one location for a longer period of time, really getting to know the local area, people, and culture. It also allows me to meet like minded people, learn new skills and give something back to the local community.
During my 10 months traveling around South America I have had a variety of jobs, including working in hostels, gardening and child minding, but by far my favorite 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 an amazing 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. The village was surrounded by rolling hills and views of both Cotopaxi and Cayambe volcanoes. It was a rural area with not a lot besides livestock, crops and a few local farmers. The accommodation was basic, with no creature comforts, not even a washing machine. Living in a place that was away from 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 was supported by the local community. It was working towards becoming a self-sustainable agroecological 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 really 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 got to practice my Spanish, teach English and even learn some French cooking.
For me, volunteering offers a different way of traveling and I am thankful for the opportunities I have had, the things I've learned and the people I have met. If you have time on your hands, it is something I would definitely recommend.
Author - Mel Mulry
Mel is a writer and photographer from Australia. With a passion for slow travel and a life philosophy of tiny little moments, she is currently exploring Latin America.
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