Amy planned two volunteering experiences while on her world travels, the first as a sports coach volunteer, coaching gymnastics in Quito, Ecuador. A far-cry from her roots in Western Australia, but a rewarding cultural and social experience.
Read Amy’s detailed review of her end to end experience:
I believe I was referred to Outreach International by a friend who was also planning a year travelling abroad. As I read through the projects I was immediately drawn to this project (E25). I had coached rhythmic gymnastics while studying, and enjoyed working with children.
Ecuador appealed as an interesting location, as I hadn’t travelled much through South America. I wanted an experience where I would more or less have the feeling of living in another city and experiencing another way of life/culture. I submitted an inquiry on the website and received a response promptly, with more information and suggestions of Skype calls to discuss further (I was also looking at other projects).
A Skype call was arranged with Steve, which went smoothly. I received so much information that I couldn’t think of any other questions. From this point on most of the organisation and correspondence was primarily via Liz, who was very helpful. Further to this there was additional details provided via email with information on the history of the country and suggested reading to become acquainted with the country.
The final Skype briefings with Liz were really informative and were very helpful regarding what to expect, logistics, safety and security, health, the projects, our hosts etc.
Given the administration and interview processes took place across vastly different time zones, and up to six months prior to the commencement of the project I am very happy and grateful with how the process manifested.
Our country co-ordinator Monika was amazing. I didn’t have the chance to have much correspondence with her prior to the arrival because I was camping in the United States and didn’t have access to good wifi.
Monika accepts all the volunteers she hosts into her family, genuinely cares about the people she hosts and tries to learn something from everyone. She was always wiling to help, and made an effort to ensure all her guests have to opportunity to experience Ecuadorian culture, normally via cooking or celebrations.
I was so glad to have been placed with Monika, who is also the Manager of the Spanish school I attended and very involved in all the volunteering projects offered by the school. After travelling for six months it was so nice to be placed with a lovely family, where you feel relaxed and settled. You also have the chance to meet other volunteers working on different projects. Monika was hosting four other volunteers and an Ecuadorian student during my stay.
Accommodation and meals were fine. There is a cleaning schedule and routine which is easy to follow. The general rules are well stated and reasonable, but are also flexible if you wanted to travel on weekends, eat out and explore. The accommodation was in the perfect location, close to the Spanish school, project and main Plaza with many shops, bars and restaurants, also close to major bus routes making it easy to get around the city.
The orientation was very helpful and Monika had a lot of advice from years of experience of hosting people from different countries. I never felt unsafe or uneasy because of the advice and warnings Monika gave me. I can’t thank Monika enough for all she did for me during my stay.
The project was challenging and fun. Working with children is exhausting at the best of times, let alone in another language. I tried to steer my Spanish classes in the direction of vocabulary I thought would be useful, however I found most of the vocabulary I used in the gym was learnt via Google Translate, listening to other coaches and practicing with the owner of the coffee shop across the road.
I found the advice from Steve and Liz prior was very useful – the first week will be chaos and you may wonder why you signed up for the project, but after a while, once you settle and have a better understanding of how the gym operates you won’t want to leave. This was very much the case for me, as on my first day the Head Coach was away at an international competition with older gymnasts, and I was initially given some girls to coach on my own prior to having any understanding how the classes operated, or the skill level of the girls, much like a “baptism of fire”, luckily one of the other coaches offered to help.
Over time as I got to know the girls, their names, personalities and abilities I really enjoyed seeing them every day. Coaching the girls requires your full attention, verbally and physically correcting technique and controlling their behaviour, all while you are just learning the language! It can be quite tiring. The other coaches were all so friendly and supportive which made it easier to adjust.
I worked from 3pm to 8pm Monday to Friday (the girls trained on Saturdays but I often went on day trips with the Spanish school to see more of Ecuador).
I would walk to and from the project, and at night I ensured I took a route which was crowded and well lit, along a major road – and walked fast! The only downside to working in the afternoon is that many of the events organised by the Spanish school run in the afternoon, and I would often miss eating dinner with the host family because I returned home late.
There are many gymnasts who train at the gym. I assisted the Head Coach with a class of Level 3’s and Level 1’s from 3-6pm. Perhaps if my knowledge of artistic gymnastics and Spanish was better I could have coached these classes on my own. Usually the Head Coach would set a skill for the girls to practice, and I would stay and supervise/coach while he went to coach older girls who trained at the same time (yes he coached up to three classes at once due to the enrolment numbers).
Although at times I felt like I wasn’t able to help much, I think my assistance allowed the Head Coach to give attention to his other classes – coaches, parents etc. Even with limited gymnastics experience you can assist by giving each child attention, and helping to reduce the student/teacher ratio – which is beneficial for the girls! This is probably the single most valuable contribution of the program!
After the first class finished I would assist another class of advanced Level 3 gymnasts who trained until 8pm with another coach. As this class was smaller (only 5 gymnasts) I was able to focus on assisting the coach with correcting the girls’ technique (physically).
Working at this project may not leave you feeling like you are saving the world (also good advice from Outreach) but what you can do is work hard to make a small contribution in the lives of a few.
It is a public sports facility, thus affordable for most Ecuadorians, a great place for parents to send their children after school (many Ecuadorians work multiple jobs to make ends meet, which means working at night). The class sizes are large and there are many gymnasts training at the same time, straining resources.
I spent four weeks at this project, which is sufficient, however I feel longer placements here are advantageous because children thrive from routine and stability. In a longer placement there could be the opportunity to improve Spanish skills, travel with squads for competitions, and become a greater part of the community at the gym, even more interaction with the parents.
Overall it was a great experience, challenging and fun and I was very sad to leave!