Volunteering abroad will change you for the better.
The summer before my senior year of high school, I was able to have one of the most enlightening experiences of my life. I traveled to Ecuador on a volunteer trip with an organization called ME to WE.
However, just saying that I traveled to Ecuador over the summer makes it sound a lot easier than it actually was. Flashback to fall of my junior year, and that is where this story actually begins. My two friends and I went to an event in Minneapolis called WE Day, that first opened us up to the possibility of making a volunteer trip a reality.
WE Day is an event put on by ME to WE in cities across North America. At the event, there are many celebrity speakers who talk about all of the amazing work they have done to help make a positive impact on the world.
ME to WE has programs set up all around the world to help people in developing countries through the five pillars of education, clean water and sanitation, health, agriculture and food security, and income and livelihood. This whole organization was founded by Craig and Marc Kielburger. These guys have a pretty incredible story so you should definitely look them up. Here’s a link.
You can’t buy a ticket to WE Day. In order to go, you must participate in a local and global project. For our global project, we wanted to do one of their volunteer trips in another country. Of course, this sounded like a great opportunity and we were ready to jump on it, but none of us were unaware of the term “voluntourism”. This is when people travel to developing countries to volunteer, but in reality, they just make things worse than before they got there.
This was definitely something we wanted to avoid, so we did a lot of research into the credibility of this program. We found it to be very credible and really liked the idea behind their projects, which was to give “hand ups” instead of “handouts." This means that they work to help the local people learn to maintain the work that they help start rather than just setting projects up and then leaving them behind.
We decided to travel to Ecuador because all three of us had been learning Spanish in high school and were hoping to be able to practice what we had learned. Once I fully committed, it was time to start raising the money needed to go. In order to fundraise, I wrote hundreds of letters to friends and family, sold items through I blog that I set up about my journey, sold things at craft fairs, wrote letters to local businesses and sold things I didn’t need from around my house.
The trip ended up being completely worth the work put into it. When we arrived in Ecuador, we found out that the project we would be working on was a water project for a small town in the Chimborazo region of Ecuador called Llullin. We worked alongside community members to dig out old pipes on the top of a mountain that leads to the town and gives them access to running water. These pipes were to be replaced with newer and better ones as part of a three-part project.
Digging out pipes at such a high altitude was definitely a challenge, but being able to work alongside great people while doing it made it so much better. It takes a special type of person to go on one of these trips and that’s why I was able to meet so many amazing people. I’m so grateful to have made all of the wonderful friends that I did, and it was very funny that most of them were Canadian because we got to make fun of each other's accents.
In addition to our volunteer project, over the course of two weeks, we also got the opportunity to tour the capital city of Quito and to stay in the Amazon Rainforest for three days.
If this post at all pushed you towards taking one of these trips then it did its job. Going on a volunteer trip will allow you to see different parts of the world, make a positive impact and meet some amazing people. My perspective has definitely widened and now I look forward to a time when I can do something like this again.