Casually rolling in and out of a volunteering experience in Ecuador isn’t going to be the best outcome for anybody, least of all you. That’s why it’s a fantastic idea to prepare yourself both personally and practically for what’s bound to be an unforgettable time helping out in South America. And there are a number of simple, sleek and satisfying ways you can do so. Consider this…!

Stay a little longer

Teaching of school children in Ecuador — © Jennifer Obanla.
Teaching of school children in Ecuador — © Jennifer Obanla.

In an ideal world, and with everything running as smoothly as planned, you’ll want to go the extra mile during your volunteering experience. Staying on, spending time with your colleagues or the people you’re helping out, sitting down for a chat or just being, are great ways to get the most out of your volunteer project in Ecuador, both professionally and socially. Remember your presence will have an impact on people’s lives, so make it a reliable one.

Go with the flow

Volunteering with elder people in Ecuador — © Jennifer Obanla.
Volunteering with elder people in Ecuador — © Jennifer Obanla.

Ecuador is in South America and South America is in that part of the world where things are done a little differently… could we go as far as saying ‘slowly,’ as well? When you volunteer in Ecuador chances are you won’t be working in a corporate environment where money and time matter so much. On the contrary, your volunteer colleagues will likely take things a little more slowly, with regular coffee breaks and potentially even a siesta (early afternoon nap), depending on which part of the country you’re in. And don’t expect things to run on time either. Punctuality is a foreign concept for many South Americans — so enjoy it!

La comunicación

Volunteering with children in Ecuador — © Jennifer Obanla.
Volunteering with children in Ecuador — © Jennifer Obanla.

At Ailola Quito we’re used to all sort of people, from all corners of the world, from all communication styles. However, while we’ll try our best to immerse you completely into our culture through the Spanish language, a volunteering experience will likely be your first chance to speak Spanish for long periods of time and with a range of variables (in other words, a range of different people). Here are some tips to keep in mind for when it comes to the locals:

  • Be nice! Like many Andean countries in South America, courtesy and kindness are an important part of verbal and non-verbal communication. You’ll find Ecuadorians are very polite and lace their speech with loads of porfavor and gracias, and honory titles like señor and señora. While it might be a challenge, add a bit of friendly flavour to your speech. It may seem excessive if you’re from a less expressive society, but the results will be golden!
  • Body space: Don’t step back! Ecuadorians stand much closer together and are more “touchy.” Men will often embrace and can often be seen patting each other on the back, while women, too, are more affectionate among themselves.
  • 21 questions: The locals are going to love hearing about you and your background. It might seem intrusive, but Ecuadorians are inquisitive and innocently curious, and will simply just want to know a little more about you before making any assessments.
  • Muchos amigos: Ecuadorian society is close-knit and relationship-based. As such, you’ll find people will be very interested in spending time with you. On the contrary, if you seemed withdrawn and distant, they’ll worry and we don’t want that.

General Etiquette

Volunteering in Ecuador — © Jennifer Obanla.
Volunteering in Ecuador — © Jennifer Obanla.

Ecuadorians in a work environment might seem a little like iceblocks — hard on the outside, but they don’t take long to melt away (and show their more informal selves). There are a number of ways to best interacting with your teammates or superiors in an Ecuador volunteering experience. These are:

  • Use honorific titles like señor, señora or if you’re really clever you can refer to much older people as don or doña.
  • You must greet everybody on arrival and departure, no exceptions.
  • Stick to the basic greeting, at least at the start of your volunteering in Ecuador: a hearty hand shake, a flutter of eye contact, a simple smile and one of these greetings…
  • The standard greetings based on the time of the day are buenos días (before midday), buenas tardes (until mid-evening), and good night (when the sun is well and truly done for the day).
  • Once you’ve broken the ice — or iceblocks — you may find it more acceptable to greet your colleagues in a more relaxed way. In Ecuador men and women, and women between themselves, kiss on the check. Meanwhile, men will embrace ever so slightly with a light slap on the back.

And the best advice in all of this? Let your Ecuadorian volunteer teammates or bosses do the groundwork for you and follow their lead when it comes to etiquette and communication. You can’t go wrong!

Getting down to business

School class volunteering in Ecuador — © Jennifer Obanla.
School class volunteering in Ecuador — © Jennifer Obanla.

A volunteering experience in Ecuador will expose you to a few fairly harsh realities and some of the challenges facing this emerging nation. Translation? Along the way you’ll meet people who are need of a helping hand. It’s important that you treat the people you meet as equals, not objects. Try not to look down on anybody or judge them, ensuring always that you’re cautious of their dignity and pride, which they may feel is at risk with the arrival of an unknown foreign visitor with all the answers. Finally, with social media all the rage nowadays, make sure you ask permission to take photos of people and check with your supervisors that you’re authorized to upload these onto your pages.

Find out if you’ve got what it takes to participate in one of our amazing Ecuador volunteer projects!

Originally published on Ailola by Jayson McNamara on May 21, 2014.