Ecuador Part 1: Volunteering in Quito

So my Colombian journey had come to an end and it was time to add another stamp to my passport.

When I was planning the volunteering part of my year abroad, various people made me nervous about the Cartagenan Spanish accent. So instead of working for 6 weeks with Emerging Voices, I decided to spend my final 2 weeks with IVHQ in Quito, a city famous for it’s language schools and desirable accent. I also wanted to stay in a homestay because I knew it would be more beneficial for my Spanish than living in an apartment with other volunteers.

I arrived into Quito on the Sunday night, unsure what to expect and somewhat sad to be leaving my beloved Colombia behind for unknown waters..(note a theme here- I always get a bit nervous before entering a new country)

On the Monday morning, all the new volunteers met up at the Volunteer Connection Ecuador office for a walking tour of the city. We were living and working in the south of Quito (the poorer side of this massive, elongated city) and so would not otherwise get the chance to visit the city’s main sights.

We climbed to the top of the Basilica del Voto Nacional for fantastic views of the city, visited the Plaza San Francisco and the main square, Plaza de Independencia. Every Monday at 11am the president comes out into the square to have his photo taken, and children from a local school do a performance. It was a nice way to spend our first morning in Quito!

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It was also a great opportunity to meet the other volunteers. Fortunately the other girl in my homestay (also new) was an absolute babe, and we instantly became great friends, planning our weekend trip away and getting excited over frozen yoghurt in the mall next to our apartment.

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We were living with a family of four in their cosy home in Barrio Nuevo. They were very friendly and made us feel at home (I felt so guilty because I was sleeping in the little girl’s bedroom…). The food they gave us was much more basic than the luxurious dishes Rita whipped up in Cartagena, but the Ecuadorian cuisine was fairly similar and generally pretty good (in spite of the potato overdose…)

On our lunch breaks from the volunteering projects we would head to a cheap local cafe for a $2 ‘almuerzo’. These were delicious: soup, juice, chicken with rice and potatoes and sometimes even a pudding. Very economical!

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On our first Wednesday night Katy, Joshua (our third flat mate) and I opted out of dinner and headed into the centre of town for dinner. We decided to visit the famous ‘La Ronda’ street where many restaurants, bars and souvenir shops are located, and ended up at an hilarious karaoke bar having burritos. Not exactly a traditional Ecuadorian night out, but it was great fun nevertheless.

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Katy and I were both supposed to be teaching English, but the school was closed for a holiday or something, so we spent our first week working on the Street Children Project. This involved going to food markets in the poor areas of the city and entertaining the children whose mothers ran the stalls. The children were adorable and I really enjoyed reading to them and playing with them (I even had to play the grandmother in the Little Red Riding Hood play a couple of times!), but I was still looking forward to teaching English in my second week.

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Unfortunately, this didn’t quite go to plan. They didn’t really need the teachers in the same way that the Colombian projects did, and I felt more like I was in the way than helping. Katy and I both decided we might be more useful working with the Kindergarten children, and I cannot express how pleased I am that I switched projects. The children were an absolute delight. We looked after them all morning, helping their teachers wherever we were needed. And they were completely adorable. I instantly fell in love with a few in particular, such as Lesley, the nerdy little girl who always finished her work first, and Gisela, who would run up and hug me at every opportunity.

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I loved supervising the kids during playtime, helping them with their ‘experiments’ and making sure they ate their snacks properly.

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I was also extremely lucky to be there for the Mothers’ Day celebration on my final day. The children had spent all week making cards for their mothers and rehearsing songs and dance routines for the big performance on Friday morning. All the mums came to watch, and we sat in the sunny playground with a beautiful mountain backdrop and watched them do their thing.

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I nearly cried when Gisela gave her mum her card, and when my little Puerto Rican, Marcos’ dad came to pick him up on the last day. The teacher I was working with was an absolute legend (although I have since been told that she had a dramatic heart problem one day the week after I left…I really hope she’s ok), and I was really inspired by her patience with the children.

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I had a fantastic time volunteering in Quito, but it was extremely different to my experience in Cartagena. The projects themselves were nowhere near as rewarding, but I loved the homestay and getting the opportunity to live in Quito for a couple of weeks.

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I also know that I wouldn’t have loved it as much if I didn’t have Katy with me.

In our time off, we would head into the centre of town to visit the sites, such as El Panecillo, the little mountain which offers fantastic views of the city.

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I found my match in chocolate-gorging, and we’d spend a lot of time tasting Ecuadorian truffles in the many shops on La a Ronda.

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We also developed an attachment to this random little cafe in the main Plaza, where we’d sit and drink tea and read our books. I loved this place so much that I forced mum and dad to come there with me on my birthday!

I only spent 2 weeks in Quito, but I became very find of the city. I liked our little neighbourhood, but I absolutely loved the Centro Historico, with it’s many churches and quirky little streets!

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