Volunteer in Ecuador – Anita in Cuenca

Posted on the 24th April 2018

Gap Year volunteer, Anita has written all about her experience in Cuenca, Ecuador. She shares with us details about her placement choice, role and travels! Carry on reading to find out more! 

Ecuador was my first, and only choice, none of my friends had heard of it, and I enjoyed the blank looks when I explained my gap year plans. For me, it was a chance to physically uproot myself, land on the equator, learn Spanish, and meet some cool people. However, the more I researched, the more I fell in love with South America as a whole, and I plan to travel as much as my time and budget will allow.

My base for these five months is the city of Cuenca, the third largest here in Ecuador. Cuenca is about a 9 hour bus ride from Quito, the capital, and is a UNESCO world heritage site. The centre is absolutely beautiful, the great cathedral can be seen from almost anywhere in the city, and dominates the skyline. It’s hard to get lost, I always get my bearings by looking for the cathedral.

The Tomebamba river winds through town, you are always only a few minutes away from the obligatory park on the river’s edge. However, it’s the mountains ringing the city that I love. The clouds always gather in interesting formations, sometimes slicing through a mountain, sometimes resting on top. It’s the clouds that make you really believe that you live at 2,500 meters above sea level; almost as high as Ruapehu.

In the morning, I leave my house at 7:30, to arrive at Cedin Down, a school/clinic that caters for people with down syndrome. Right now, I work with the babies and toddlers, teaching them to walk, crawl, and say basic words. When I first started, I was quite out of my depth, as I had never had much to do with babies. The staff are super professional, working therapy into each day, and striving for development with the kids. On Mondays we go horse riding, and in breaks we do dance therapy sessions.

I have learnt so much over the past month, I can now work one on one with the kids (in Spanish of course), and I feel like I am making a difference in their development. It is awesome to see them walking solo, when just a month ago they struggled to stand. Need I even say that all the students (6 months right up to 48), are awesome, hilarious, and so sweet.

In the afternoon, I walk half an hour to a high school called Remigio Romero, where I assist the head of English. This school is quite different to NZ schools, because they have only one building for two schools. In the morning, the primary and intermediate kids attend, and in the afternoon and into the evening, we have the high school. My work consists of lots and lots of marking, as well as reading aloud and testing student’s pronunciation.

Home consists of my host parents, three sisters (one in Scotland at the moment), and a dog. Also the little cousin, who loves hide and seek, and mancala, which she has her own set of rules for. My oldest sister is 27, and still lives at home, however she just got engaged, so will be shipping out soon. It is the custom here in Cuenca to live at home until you get married, which is super different, but I have heaps of people to talk to which is cool. The food over here is amazing; good hearty lunches to really make your jeans feel tight.

My favourite thing about this placement, is that the options for travel are endless. I go to a new place every second weekend, and sometimes every weekend. The buses are cheap, the accommodation is cheap, and there is something new to experience at every corner. By far my favourite weekend away was Semana Santa (Easter). I took Thursday off, and used the long weekend to volunteer at a wildlife refuge centre in the Amazon.

To get to AmaZOOnico, the refuge, I had to take a canoe ride down the river, and the lush rainforest on either side was spectacular. I spent three days feeding animals (toucans, monkeys, ocelots, pumas etc.), as well as giving tours. There was a mixture of international volunteers, and local people, creating an awesome relaxed vibe. After work, we would walk through the jungle in our togs to a rope swing and tree on the river. After jumping in a few times, we would then swim back down the river to our lodgings. On the last day, I was super sick (tip: don’t drink dodgy looking water), but that didn’t affect the memories of an awesome weekend.

The experiences of my time here so far have really ignited the travel spark inside me, but as well as that, I have become more patient with others. I know that I will not have anything to do with early childhood in my career, but does this experience hurt? It’s something I never would have touched on back in NZ, but I have been able to add to my knowledge of others, and the world.  I have always been independent, and one to stick things out (thanks mum), and that has grown here in Ecuador. You have tough days, and days where you just want to fight over the last bit of cake with your sisters back home in NZ. However, by sticking it out, I have learnt so much about people in general, and how important an early education is, to get a good start on life.

For those considering Ecuador as a gap year experience, I say go for it! I have met so many people from all over already, with 4 months still to go! South America is also super budget friendly, but I highly recommend working for it. I am here under my own steam, and man does it feel good (also, gotta make it to the Galapagos… you are coming such a long way!). By taking salsa classes, and mixing with other travellers in hostels, I have made a few friends here in Cuenca, some of which are also volunteers. My sisters also refuse to let me have an uneventful Friday night, enabling me to meet even more people.

I will attach the link to my blog, which has more in depth tales of my time here so far, but take the leap of a gap year; I certainly have not regretted it so far.


Thank you so much to Anita for taking the time to write about her amazing volunteer experience in Ecuador! If you also want to experience this amazing country, sign up to Lattitude today! 

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