Landon Suggitt, from Canada, volunteered on our Cloudforest Conservation project in Ecuador in 2013
When I first pictured cloud forest, I figured it might look like a forest with clouds, like in BC? The reserve you work and live at looks more like the picture on the right. The diversity of life in the hills at the equator is something you must experience to appreciate. The perfect weather was a nice bonus, and most days settle at a comfy, but not too hot temperature (in the low 20s Celsius). Also, expect daily storms during the rainy season, some very exciting! Ecuador is beautiful: in its landscapes, people and culture. The cities are worth seeing, but can very dangerous for tourists lacking the proper precautions. I was luckily never robbed, but it was common story among people I ran into. Protect your valuables! Also, use the recommended hostel while staying in Quito: very cool and safe. Still, being out in the country is much safer, and it's where you will spend most of your time.
From the city, La Hesperia is about a 3 hour bus ride across amazing Andean countryside, and a 1 hour hike up from the road. You're far from civilization, but the cell reception is still not too bad! The reserve is altogether a protected area, a (mostly) self-sustaining farm, a local school, and a great learning experience for aspiring international conservationists like you or I! The volunteer house was very comfortable and open, with views of pure nature that I still miss. After a hard working day and a cold refreshing shower, you will be overwhelmed by the sounds of the forest at night that leads to some intense and vivid dreaming.
The daytime work was varied and sometimes challenging. My tasks over the course of a month ranged from tree planting to trail maintenance and basic farm work including planting/harvesting crops (such as bananas, oranges, sugar cane, yucca, chocolate, coffee, etc.), weeding, and working with animals. Regardless of the job, a machete is the only tool you need! Also, at one point you have to take the daily milk down the mountain with the most stubborn donkey ever. There is electricity, but you hand wash your own clothes. Also, safe drinking water and meals are prepared by the staff (luxury!) Expect staples and fresh food that couldn't be any more local.
That's what volunteering and living is like, but of course there's plenty of time for fun and meeting people. The reserve itself is full of things to do including Spanish lessons, soccer games, hiking, horseback riding, swimming, and a communal chill area of the volunteer house with books, a guitar, games, etc. Still, weekends are better spent exploring more of the country. There's lots to see, and you can get recommendations from other volunteers and locals. Me and a buddy I met on our first day spent one weekend biking down volcanoes through Inca ruins and indigenous villages, one living it up in an awesome adventure/party town called Banos, one taking in the history of Quito, and I made an excursion to the Galapagos for my final leg. All were great experiences that I still tell stories about. Produced some breathtaking pictures too!
I couldn't recommend this volunteer experience more, even if Ecuador is not near the top of your list. It's simply a better way to travel while contributing a little back to this amazing country you're visiting. The work is satisfying and makes you feel like a part of the community rather than just a tourist. Plus, you can still have as much fun as you want. Meeting people comes naturally, and a trip like this is a great way to take a person out of their comfort zone in front of a screen or whatever, at least for enough time to appreciate what you have at home, and perhaps what's missing. You may not "discover yourself", but I can guarantee you will grow from it.
The great thing about a travel opportunity like this is that even the hardships are part of the experience, and often the best stories later on. I can't say I would change any aspect really.
That said, I could have gotten a bit more out of it if I learned a bit more conversational Spanish prior to going. Also, the mosquitoes suck (literally, hah), especially during the rainy season. It's essential to have rubber boots, a bug net, bug spray and afterbite, but it won't be enough!
Debbie Hughes from the UK writes about her experience on the Bottlenose Dolphin Research Project – on the Research Sailing boat for 12 days, Dalmatian coast, Croatia
The trip was amazing and an excellent experience!
It was very well set up and well organised. Grgur was a great lead and he created a good balance between work and relaxing time. The description on the Working abroad site is a good insight into the whole experience and between that and the pack I was sent I was well prepared for the trip. The accommodation on the boat is basic but it is perfect and a great opportunity. The meals are prepared by the skipper on the boat and the food was amazing.
The usual day consisted of getting up about 7 with breakfast at 7:30 then out on the rib searching for dolphins till about 1. When back at the boat it was lunch then free time during which we sunbathed, went swimming in the sea, snorkelled and relaxed. (When we were out on the rib the skipper moved the big boat to a different location where we met him) Over the whole trip we covered over 500 nautical miles!! On a few nights we did some computer work which Grgur had explained to us- for about 2 hours (only about 3 nights though). Dinner was served about 8 where we discussed the daily activities and the plans for the next day. After dinner on 3 nights Grgur gave us a powerpoint presentation about different areas of his work and ours, these included our role on the boat, his research and the work on dolphin behaviours. On the other nights the time was our own to do with as we pleased.
Most days had the same plan, only on 2 days we didn't go out to search due to winds and high seas. Over the 12 nights we were anchored at sea for 9 nights and 3 nights docked at quiet bays. I preferred being anchored as the sea was amazing but even when we were docked the bays had 4-5 other boats and the small towns only had about a dozen houses and a small bar.
Volunteer Ben Campbell, from Australia gives his feedback on our Ocean Spirits sea turtle conservation project in Grenada
I’m really glad I joined Ocean Spirits as a volunteer for three weeks in May 2013. The work and time there was enriching and it feels good to have contributed a bit to the conservation of the Leatherback turtle. In fact, I couldn’t get enough of these wonderful creatures and will miss them. I´ll also miss the like-minded, friendly, committed staff and volunteers. Living and working in the one place abroad, especially amongst locals, allowed me to get a deeper experience of Grenada, its people, environment and wildlife. The staff provided a good balance between serious work and fun, taking us on trips to the islands nearby for BBQs and snorkeling and giving us opportunities to be involved in cultural and community activities. It was also fun being with other volunteers from around the world.
The Ocean Spirits residence is very comfortable and secure and has an outstanding view from the spacious verandah out to Levera Beach in the distance and archipelago beyond. The garden has plenty of coconuts and a variety of tasty fruits. Our dinners were always good and the cooking was fun, with each night´s chefs not wanting to lower the standards set in previous meals!
The highlight, of course, was working hands-on at night with the Leatherbacks, especially in the moonlight - counting eggs, measuring, tagging, etc, then taking a snooze on the sand under the stars and occasionally spotting some hatchlings. Seeing a few turtles by day was always a bonus, and what a buzz it was one day to join the staff in rescuing a Leatherback tangled in an illegal fishing net at the south end of Grenada. This event exemplified the staff´s dedication to saving the turtles and was very satisfying to be part of.
For anyone who has a love of nature, is OK with occasionally roughing it a bit and has an interest in being somewhere very special in the Caribbean, I highly recommend joining Ocean Spirits – for the place, the people, the turtles and the cause.
David and Lauren Scruggs, Volunteered on the Rural Community Project, Nepal in February 2013
For my daughter's 18th birthday I promised to take her anywhere or do anything she wanted. When the answer was I want to do volunteer working Nepal it literally brought tears to my eyes.
I was impressed with the projects available and my daughter and I opted to work at the Daycare Center in the Chitwan region. Admittedly, we were both a bit scared of the unknown on our way out to Nepal. We are both seasoned travellers but this was the first time we travelled to a less developed country and neither of us knew what to expect.
We were greeted at the airport by staff and we immediately put at ease. Despite the somewhat different (read nail-biting) drive from the airport to the hotel, we settled in and were accompanied by Phil Palmer into Kathmandu for a quick visit and a bite to eat. The first night was a shocker and an eye-opener having seen kids no more than 10 years old living on the street, camping by fires and sniffing glue to stay warm. The constant barking of the numerous wild dogs and the images of street kids made sleep that night hard to find.
The next day we were greeted by Phil and Sunju in the hotel. Sunju spent the day taking us around Kathmandu to temples, museums and markets. It was a pleasure to see Kathmandu in the daytime and we quickly felt more at ease with the environment. Phil and Sunju made sure we felt comfortable and that was well received by both my daughter and myself. We then took a bus to Chitwan where we were met by our homestay family.
They brought us to our room and we rested up. They immediately made us feel at home and looked after us like family. We worked for week at the Daycare Center and working with the kids and staff was an absolute delight. From playing with them to teaching them the alphabet, washing their faces to fixing lunches, it was all just an amazing experience. Dilu and Binu (our homestay Dad and Mom) made our stay in Chitwan an excellent experience. We even had time for a few elephant safaris and jungle walks. To top it off they organized the biggest and best18th birthday party anyone could have ever imagined, with several people from the village over dancing and sharing local tradition with Lauren.
I was speechless. I was moved by the poverty. I was moved by the beauty. I was moved by how happy and friendly people can be when they have so little. Kids playing hacky sack with makeshift elastic band balls, families and friends just sitting and talking, people working on the farms, in the numerous little home shops... everything just seemed to be in harmony. For our second week we decided to travel and see some of the rest of Nepal. For the first time in 20 odd years Dilu left Binu for more than the day and came with us. He took us to Bandipur and to Pokhara looking out for us and taking us to visit some of the most amazing places we have ever seen. Upon our return to Kathmandu we met up with Phil and he found us another hotel on my request away from the howling dogs, he brought us there and made sure we got settled in before meeting up with us later that night to enjoy dinner with some new volunteers.
I spent a lot of time talking to Raj and Phil and I am moved by their dedication and their selflessness. They work hard and make sure that the volunteers have an excellent experience... while helping people in Nepal get access to education, medical care, shelter, and some of their ideas and new projects on how to help Nepal have captivated me.
I would like thank everyone for making this experience possible. I highly recommend for any volunteer looking to help people and gain an amazing and unforgettable experience.
Alex Liang from California, USA spent some time on our Leatherback and Black Turtle conservation project in December
I had a great time at Ostional, the work was rewarding, a great cultural experience and lots of great memories!
The village/community was great. People were warm and nice. During my stay there was a rodeo/festival going on, so it was awesome to experience some new culture.
I definitely loved my host; she was a great cook (the food/drink were amazing), and even though she speaks very little English, she was very warm and helpful. The homestay experience was great.
Thanks for such an awesome memory!
Two volunteers on our Volunteer in Brazil programme, Brandon Arnold and Conor Hartnett, made the following video whilst working with a community NGO in a favela in Rio de Janeiro
Julia Breuer, from the UK, volunteered on the Rural community project in Nepal for 1 month in October
I went to Nepal for a month and booked my placement through Working Abroad Projects. From the outset I found everyone friendly, approachable and professional. When I booked my placement for voluntary work, a member of staff called me and answered all the queries I had. I stayed with a family in the Chitwan area and volunteered at the daycare centre there for pre-schoolers. The work was really rewarding and I shared a lot of laughs with the kids, despite the language barrier!
The homestay that I stayed with were so welcoming and made me feel like part of the family. It was such an eye-opener to see how a Nepali family live day to day. It helped that the mum of the family was an amazing cook and I watched her a couple of times to get a few tips.
I was also lucky enough to be in Nepal when Dashain (a religious festival) was on. During this time I stayed with Sarita's family and had a lovely time celebrating with them. Again, they were really welcoming and included the other volunteers and I in all the rituals involved with the celebration.
I will never forget my time in Nepal. On the first night, all the volunteers and staff went out for dinner, so you got to know like-minded people straight away and never really felt on your own. The flexibility of the project made the trip even more enjoyable as I knew that if there were any problems or if I wanted to move to another placementI could, and this gave me peace of mind.
Francesca Fairbairn and her 5 year old son, from the UK, spent 2 weeks at Playa Drake, Costa Rica on our Pacific Turtle programme, living in with a local family in a homestay and taking part in all of the turtle conservation and community activities.
“We had a wonderful time. And although my son was mostly very hot and also ravaged by mozzies, he thought Costa Rica was the best and he loved it. Rob was very accommodating, and the other volunteers were all very nice.”
Sean Park, one of our volunteers on the Ocean Spirits programme, Grenada, and other volunteer researchers wrote this Song about Grenada's protected Leatherback turtles, singing it together with local school children. Check out the video below!
Our Statia Conservation project was recently included in The Guardian's 10 Volunteering Holiday ideas:
"The stunning Dutch Antilles island of St Eustatius is home to two national parks where volunteers can build trails, maintain the diverse flora and fauna, and help with surveys and night patrols of turtles during the nesting season. You need to like camping and the great outdoors – your accommodation is a tent out in the wild, and the island is famed for its snorkelling and hiking."
You can check out the full entry here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2012/sep/18/top-10-volunteering-working-holidays?INTCMP=SRCH
Edward Beavan, from the UK, volunteered for 2 weeks on our Rural Community project in Nepal in August
In August I spent two weeks working at the Sauraha Daycare Centre, I found working with the children very gratifying and emotional, as I believed I was making a difference to the children’s lives and hopefully to their future.
When I arrived in Kathmandu it was the start of the Chitwan Festival and I thank the staff, Phil, Raj and Sahrita for whisking me off, altering all previous timetables, for me to experience the culture of the festival, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
During my stay in Chitwan I experienced elephant rides, washing elephants and I was lucky enough to watch a rare one horned rhino calf and its mother, as well as a multitude of other wild birds and animals.
The staff were very helpful and were always thinking of me, making sure I was ok and that I was enjoying myself. When I first arrived in Nepal and was greeted by the staff, I could really sense that this was an organisation who are dedicated to helping others and that really shone through. When I was with them, they were always thinking of different ways they can help more Nepalese people and to me this was wonderful, to see people so dedicated to helping others. So if you are looking for a truly memorable, fantastic experience, helping others less fortunate than us, then I definitely recommend the project.
Volunteer Gaby Lieuw, who blogs about all things Dutch-Caribbean, has written a great entry on the Statia Conservation project and the Botanical Garden where volunteers will stay and work. You can read more at this link.
Natalie Roussouw from South Africa, joined the Teach in Cambodia project from August to November
My volunteer experience in Cambodia was fantastic. The whole volunteer set up is very well organised and the staff really are fantastic.
They constantly make sure that you get the most out of our time in Cambodia by organising day trips on weekends and cultural activities.
The experience is very much about getting a taste of life in Phnom Penh, Cambodian culture and working as a teacher at the school, which was fantastic. The students are amazing and they alone make the whole experience worth while. They care so much about you and making sure that you are happy in their country.
If other volunteers feel like they would like to do more hands on work in their spare time, they do allow you to work at orphanages in your time off. I really felt like i was getting more out of the experience by doing that in my spare time as there is so much poverty in Cambodia.
Video: With little to no ability to hear, Cindy King from Oregon, a volunteer on our Amazon Basin Research and Conservation Programme in Peru, discovers the rainforest in silence, using her heightened sense of sight to locate animals during wildlife monitoring.
Piotr Marszalek, who volunteered on our Cloud Forest programme in Ecuador, from August to September, has compiled a report describing his experience. Please click the link below to read more:
Bart Libaut volunteered on our Carpathian Wolf Watch project in January/February
I would say the set-up of the project was pretty professional and well taken care off, such as the presentation on the internet, travel info, practical arrangements, documentation, mountain security the evening before starting the work, the wide range of field materials, etc.
At the site itself, there was smooth coordination and also quite some autonomy and responsibility for/from the participants. It was definitely a good choice to have 3 'team leaders'; Robin overlooking it all (+ some focus on wildlife/tracking issues, of course), Dan taking good care of the 'social' and 'people' side of things (and throwing in his field experience from over the years) and Peter sharing his skills as an outdoor person and experienced tracker.
I was also very pleased to see that in Slovakia itself we had excellent accomodation and very attentive and friendly hosts. The delicious meals (always nicely 'adapted' for vegetarians), (hecto)liters of tea and warmth of the stove/fireplace were key and welcome ingredients to keep us going and carrying out the daily work in winterish conditions and often extreme temperatures.
Group-wise things went rather smoothly and I believe we had a good mix of people. There was enough room for participants to choose in which kind of field work they wanted to step into the next day (transects, scrutinzing tracks) and with whom.
Photos taken by Bart Libaut
Joanne Spencer from the UK, who volunteered on our Statia Conservation Project for 4 months and then joined our Teach in Rural Thailand Project afterwards, has some great news to share!
Hello It's Joanne. I volunteered on the Statia Conservation project, and then the Teach in rural Thailand with you. I am now on a 1 year working holiday Visa in Canada. And planning to travel to South America in 2012 so may well be in touch to see what you offer there.
Whilst in Thailand, on your project I met a guy, and we got engaged this Christmas! So thanks WorkingAbroad!!
Claire Brown, Bsc Environmental Science from the UK writes about her Flying Squirrel Internship in Nevada, USA
My summer internship with The Great Basin Institute Reno, Nevada was valuable work experience. I learned a range of skills from live trapping live small mammals to conducting radio telemetry. Highlights of the trip included locating the first radio collared squirrel using radio telemetry and watching the squirrels glide between trees. The fieldwork was physically demanding however we were often rewarded by the opportunity to have a dip in the cool blue water of Lake Tahoe after a long day of hiking. The internship was not only excellent experience for my future career, it was also an opportunity to make friends from across the globe. I would certainly recommend this internship as it offers a good balance between learning, work and adventure. A typical week would involve four long days working and camping in the field undertaking research, a small amount of time in the office and a three day weekend enjoying the range of adventure opportunities that Nevada has to offer.
Yvonne Hendrych, a textile professional from Brussels, joined the Teaching in Rural Thailand programme in August and gives her feedback:
The project was amazing.
Everything worked out so smoothly and everyone was so extremely kind and nice to me that I had the most wonderful time there.
Everyone was incredibly nice and helpful and I felt at home right away. Also my host family was amazing. I really found a second family in Thailand and we got along so well even without speaking the same language. My host mother made a great effort to learn some English and I did my best to learn a couple of Thai words. Teaching was great fun but also quite challenging because I was teaching many different classes and all different levels of English. So I always had to first check and then quickly adapt to the level of English they had.
But luckily all the previous teachers kept a teacher’s diary and wrote down their experiences with the students so I could check in advance what kind of games or exercises they had been doing. Anyway the emphasis is on conversation. And this is best done through little games or quizzes. Students love the competition and teaming up against each other. It sometimes takes a bit to involve them because often they are very shy. But once they warmed up it was so much fun. I must say I enjoyed all classes and never had a boring moment.
On Sundays I went to temple school to teach the little ones (5-8 years) together with other teachers from Prangku who teach on a voluntary basis on Sundays. All the teachers at Prangku are so committed and engaged and dedicate also so much of their free time to the school and the students. It is really remarkable. Big compliment. And the students were just wonderful. They were so nice and polite and really eager to learn English. I can only recommend this experience to everyone who enjoys being with children and to everyone who is interested in getting to know a new culture.
Thank you Working Abroad. This is really a remarkable initiative which offers unforgettable experiences for both sides.
Alexandra Mangold volunteered on the Amazon research project in Peru
My time with Fauna Forever was amaizing. I really had a great time. Everything was organised and I didn't have to worry about anything.
I was working in the herpetology team and the work was hard sometimes, but I absolutely fell in love with the jungle and the animals living in it, so that the work was never too hard.
So all together, everything was well organised, the people were friendly and caring and the work in the jungle was amazing. We even saw a jaguar!
Cristina Melchion, from Italy, volunteered recently on the Desert Elephants project, and describes her experience
Everything went well! I met a lot of new people, everybody was very nice. I learnt many camping activities like making a fire, collecting wood, making breakfast and dinner, and how to pay attention to dangers.
I improved my English, I spoke with local people, I danced with them, I learnt a lot about local culture because I participated in a township tour, I did sandboarding, I had another bad but very interesting experience with local transport (you don't leave until the bus is full!!! so you never know when you leave and when you arrive!).
I followed elephants for two weeks: how amazing it was!!!! We were very very near to them. We managed to build two walls: I learnt how to make cement. I enjoyed the desert and its views....but I, most of all, enjoyed my stay with local and non local people, the people always make the difference, people as friends, as colleagues, as travel mates, always make the difference in the places you visit. I learnt a lot from them. The project is not only an association which tries to make peace in the Namibian desert between farmers and elephants, but I think there is a more profound purpose behind it: learning to share everything, to collaborate, to stay together and learn to face difficulties together, something that in modern society is lost.
So definitely I don't regret my choice this year.....I'm already thinking of what I can do next year!.