A Group Quest to Ecuador with Louisiana State

Andrea Shapiro

At the end of May, I had the great pleasure to travel on a Quest to Ecuador with a group of 12 volunteers from Louisiana State University. Because I work in the marketing department of United Planet, I get to hear about Quests all the time, but this was my first time experiencing one for real – and I understand now why our volunteers say that it is life-changing. I want to share a little window into the experience with you. As always, a big thank you to the volunteers from Louisiana State volunteers for welcoming me into their group!

 

Our first day

We started off our time in Ecuador with a tour of the capital city of Quito. We visited some beautiful old churches in the Old Town, learned a lot about Ecuadorian history and architecture from our tour guide, had a delicious lunch as a group, and then finished off the day by visiting and straddling el Mitad del Mundo – the equator line.

View of the Old Town in Quito, Ecuador

Lousiana State volunteers tour the old town of Quito with a tourguide

Church in old town of Quito, Eduador

Louisiana State volunteers at the Equator line in Ecuador

Our volunteer project in Quito

The next day, we started our volunteer work at a daycare center located in a disadvantaged neighborhood of Quito. We traveled there by bus with our wonderful bus driver, tour guide, and Max, our Ecuador Country Coordinator’s summer intern. Max spent most of the week with us, working alongside the group and making sure everything went smoothly. After an introduction with the daycare staff, we made fast friends with the children – both the younger kids who attended the daycare, and the older children who helped out during the day.

Louisiana State volunteer with two children at a daycare in Ecuador

Louisiana State students make friends with children in Ecuador

Lousiana State volunteers and teachers play with children at a daycare in Quito

Each day, we split off into groups to complete different projects. With the help of a local artist, one group painted murals on the newly constructed classrooms.

Louisiana State volunteers painting a mural at a daycare in Ecuador

Lousiana State volunteers paint murals at a daycare in Ecuador

Volunteers paint a mural on a classroom wall

Volunteers paint a mural at a daycare in Ecuador

A second group cleared an overgrown section of land and planted a beautiful garden that will provide food for the daycare in the future.

Louisiana State volunteer clearing tires out of a garden in Ecuador

Louisiana State volunteers weed a garden in Ecuador

Louisiana State volunteers plant a garden at a daycare in Ecuador

The third group worked alongside the teachers to organize activities for the children, feed them, put them down for naps, and supervise them outside.

Lousiana State volunteer interacts with a child in the classroom

Classroom at a daycare in Ecuador

Louisiana State volunteer shows a child an image on her phone

On our last day volunteering at the daycare, we had a minga – an event where the families of the children worked together with the daycare staff and our group to complete various projects around the grounds. We all collaborated to finish up the garden work and some other side projects that will help keep the daycare center functioning.

Volunteers and community members work together at a daycare

A Louisiana State volunteer and an Ecuadorian girl paint pots together at a daycare

Cultural Activities

When we weren’t volunteering, the group had language lessons, attended a salsa dance class, visited a local artisanal market, and even attended a chocolate tasting to learn about sustainable cocoa farming in Ecuador.

Louisiana State volunteers attend a salsa dance class

Louisiana State volunteers participate in cultural activities

Group Excursions

Though the focus of the trip was volunteer work, we also spent some time exploring Ecuador – what a beautiful country. Over the course of the two weeks, the group ziplined through the cloud forest in Mindo, took a boat ride on the crater lake of Cuicocha, visited the sacred Peguche waterfall, and spent a day at the vast artisan market in Otavalo.

A boat ride on Cuicocha lake

Photo credit: Max Palmer

Peguche Waterfall

Our volunteer work in Otavalo

After spending almost a week in Quito, we boarded our bus again and headed to the rural city of Otavalo, about two hours away in a valley of the Andes mountains. Otavalo has a large indigenous population known for their artisanal crafts and is home to the largest artisan market in South America. In Otavalo, we worked for four days with a local indigenous community.

Our first day with the community, we were introduced to the local community leaders. They spoke to us about what their community is currently working on, including a reforestation project and a project to provide potable drinking water to other communities in the area. They then led us on a hike through the valley of the Andes mountains – to this day the most beautiful place I have ever seen.

Hiking in the valley of the Andes Mountains

View of Imbabura volcano

View of Imbabura volcano from Otavalo

As we worked with the community, we learned to adapt to their slower pace of life – definitely an adjustment! At the community daycare center, we sanded and repainted tables and chairs, repainted the blacktop and murals, and of course, spent time playing with the children.

Louisiana State volunteers at the daycare center in Otavalo

Lousiana State volunteers sand tables

Louisiana State volunteers paint chairs

A child sits on a volunteer's lap

Volunteers from Louisana State interact with children

Volunteers chat with children at the daycare center

Volunteers paint a wall together

Before I knew it, I was at the airport, waiting for my flight out of Ecuador. Though I had spent less than two weeks there, it felt like I had been learning the culture customs for a month at least. I won’t soon forget the generosity of the communities we worked with, the dedication of the Louisiana State volunteers, the delicious fruit juices we had every morning for breakfast, and the overwhelmingly beautiful culture I had the honor to be a part of for a short while.

The Louisiana State students I had the pleasure to volunteer with were dedicated to service, open-minded, and all around a wonderful group of people to spend two weeks with in Ecuador. Thank you for sharing your journey with me!

Louisiana State volunteers with the indigenous community in Otavalo

Photo credit: Max Palmer

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