Volunteering in Ecuador/Galapagos
January 7, 2007 2:50 PM   Subscribe

I am planning a group trip to Ecuador/Galapagos islands, and we would like to spend a day doing community service. Any suggestions/recommendations/experiences?

I'll be going with a group of about 25 people, aged 25-30, in the last week of August. We'd be up for doing anything really, but only have a day either in Santa Cruz or Quito. Preferrably the organization would be non-political and non-religous but other than that we're open. All ideas welcome!
posted by orangskye to Travel & Transportation around Ecuador (4 answers total)
This is a very popular trend in young travellers right now, which has a few ramifications. First, there are a lot of businesses that want to make a profit selling you "volunteer" opportunities. Avoid these, as they not only cost you money, but also often cause problems in the communities they claim to help.

Second, there might be a lot of mixed feelings about you helping out, in part because of the way this trend has played out in impoverished areas. This past fall I met high-school students "volunteering" at a hospital in Ghana. Understandably, a lot of Ghanaians I met wondered if these children would be allowed into British hospitals in the same capacity, and what benefit they were actually providing.

The thing is, unless you have some special skills, what exactly can you do? Most impoverished areas don't lack for unskilled labour; they lack for various skilled labour and resources. Don't be surprised if people seem a lot more interested in the resources you represent than the grunt work you can do in a day.

Sorry if this is coming across negative, but I would say that unless you see a particular need that you can fill, the best thing you can do is go and always pay a fair price and buy lots of stuff from locals.
posted by carmen at 3:44 PM on January 7, 2007

If you're interested in conservation-related service, you can try the Charles Darwin Foundation. Their volunteer page is here. I don't know if they will be able to accommodate a group of your size for a short period of time -- their application looks like it's geared for for individuals who want to volunteer for months rather than groups who want to work for just a day -- but that's a good place to start. I was at the CDF Giant Tortoise Breeding Center on Isabela in November, and there were lots of volunteers sweeping up corrals and doing other menial labor.
posted by harkin banks at 3:57 PM on January 7, 2007

I worked at the Darwin Station in Puerto Ayora on a research expedition some years ago. The influx of tourist dollars means that the Galapagos are quite prosperous by Ecuadorian standards - I don't think there are very many 1-day volunteer opportunities there.

I don't know if this is feasible for you, but raising money for organizations that enforce laws against poaching and illegal fishing, like Sea Shepherds, would have a bigger impact than 1 day of menial labor. Ecuador can't afford to police the islands enough to discourage shark-finners and their nasty ilk.
posted by ilyanassa at 4:41 PM on January 7, 2007

Check with the Quito clubhouse of the South American Explorers (formerly the South American Explorers Club, til the NY-based Explorers Club sued them over the name, for you trivia buffs). They're probably the best source of info on volunteering in the country, and have a number of projects -schools, etc - they work with specifically. You shouldn't have to be a member to access their volunteering info.

They can also tell you how to visit fellow countrymen and -women currently serving in Ecuadorian prisons, a very interesting way to brighten a stranger's day, if you're into that sort of thing...
posted by gottabefunky at 5:57 PM on January 7, 2007

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