Zac was scheduled to do two volunteer placements with Outreach, the first being one of our firm favourites volunteering with the energetic and vibrant elderly of downtown Quito in Ecuador.
Read Zac’s account of his experience, and the support from Outreach to help make it happen.
[What did you think of the briefing and administration process before you departed? Did you feel sufficiently prepared?]
I approached Outreach because my partner was signed in for a project, so I used the website to pick a project that suited my interests. The pre trip briefing was very structured and well executed, there were ample opportunities to ask any questions face to face over skype or via email. This was a very in depth preparation process which set me up for a smooth start.
[Was your in-country coordinator supportive and helpful, on arrival and throughout your stay?]
I was lucky enough to be billeted with my in country coordinator, this made communication with her extremely easy! Monika is very fun, approachable, friendly, and loves hosting volunteers, which is evident from the amount of energy she commits to the volunteers.
We had three meals prepared daily, and barely ate the same thing twice. All of the food was always prepared fresh on the day, from local ingredients sourced from the markets, and we often helped with shopping at the local markets.
The typical day on the project was around 9.30-2pm. I would start off helping out in the kitchen with food preparation for lunch followed by the service of morning tea and biscuits to the elderly. I would then play games with the elderly such as jenga, chess, cards, dominoes, memory, or set them up with activities such as colouring in which was usually the most popular or puzzles with large pieces.
Following activities we would collect all of the items back and serve lunch. Most people would clear out within 20 minutes of food service, leaving the food hall empty to clean and set up for the following day. There were 4 permanent volunteers in the kitchen, and one permanent program coordinator, which meant the main responsibility for the short term volunteers was to ensure the elderly were comfortable and entertained.
[What were the other staff like?]
The other staff were extremely helpful and approachable. They guide you through the first couple of days and then leave you to be. It doesn’t take too long to become familiar with the faces of the elderly and remember what their favourite activity, so it is quite the seamless experience.
[What advice do you have for future volunteers regarding this project e.g. what to bring, how to prepare, how to behave?]
It is not necessary to bring anything else other than your personality to this project. You behave in a manner that makes you friendly and approachable, and engage with the elderly people for several hours on a daily basis. They really just want someone to talk to who is genuinely interested. It means a lot to them.
[How do you feel you made a positive contribution to your project?]
I feel my contribution was made by giving a lot of energy to the activities being conducted for or with the elderly. I quickly learned and remembered who liked what activities and ensured that these were brought to them each day. I gave time to each table of people throughout the week, sometimes encouraging them to try a different activity that they would not usually choose.
I took my camera in one day to take photos of everyone present. That night I had one photo of each person developed and gave them to the people the next day. Interestingly, the elderly who least wanted their photo taken were the most excited and grateful to receive their photo! Mission accomplished.
You leave with an experience that is touching on the heart string. The last day was definitely the hardest and most emotional, as 90 elderly people prayed together for my safe onward journey. You leave the program knowing that you listened to someone’s stories, someone who thinks they are forgotten about in their own society. You make them feel wanted. You get to practise your Spanish skills for several hours every day.
[What will be your fondest memory?]
This will most definitely be seeing the joy and happiness that was brought to the faces of the elderly when I gave them their photos, and when each one came up and gave me a hug on my last day.
[How could your experience have been improved? ]
The experience was very seamless as the foundation has been running day in day out for years.
I think the experience is a touch on the expensive side. However when I put my business hat on I understand that Outreach and Simon Bolivar (Ed. – the language school) need to make enough money to run a successful business, to be able to continue to advertise for, obtain, and place volunteers in such programs in the future.
I would recommend volunteering through Outreach to friends and family because it is a highly structured way to visit another country, learn a second language, and give back to a community all in on visit, with the programs tailored and executed to suit the needs of each individual volunteer.
If you would like to volunteer in this project then review the project HERE and apply to talk to us about your plans.