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Volunteer in Ecuador

NGOs Offer Hundreds of Choices

Sea lion with pup on the Galapogos Islands
Sea lion with pup on the Galapogos Islands.

Ecuador is a beautiful country, interesting for many reasons, but especially for its huge diversity—geographic, biological, and socio-cultural. The range of flora and fauna is world-famous, especially in the Galapagos Islands. Ethnic diversity is arguably one of the highest in the continent. However, in modern times, the diversity is being threatened by many different factors and in many different ways.

My husband and I spent three weeks in Ecuador from December through January at GAIAS (Galapagos Academic Institute of Arts and Science). There we met the director’s wife, who is passionate about preserving and conserving Ecuador’s biodiversity. She works for Fundacion Jatun Sacha (Jatun Sacha Foundation), an NGO that runs sustainable conservation projects on 10 reserves around the country. At any one time they have about 1000 volunteers, offering many choices volunteer opportunities.

The reserves are in different ecosystems, so the foundation can do research and learn to deal with the different local conditions. Five reserves are on the coastline, two in the highlands, two in the jungle, and one on San Cristobel Island in the Galapagos. More volunteers are needed in the highlands and on the coast especially, as most local people live in these areas.

Minimum sign-up is two weeks, but a month or more is recommended so the volunteer can learn more and get more deeply involved in the culture. The foundation also offers mini-courses: for example, a graduate student pursuing an education degree worked in a local school.

Volunteers pay a monthly fee to cover accommodation, food, and program co-ordination costs. They can choose a particular focus: biological, environmental, or social. Some volunteers spend time in just one place; others visit many reserve stations. In this case the coordinator arranges talks with local people (such as a natural healer), visits to local schools, a boat trip with local fishermen, and meetings with local women’s groups.

The focus in each reserve is different. For some, the main emphasis is conservation; at others the focus is community work, where volunteers try to find solutions to issues that will help both the community and conservation efforts.

For more information on volunteering with Fundacion Jatun Sacha visit Semester courses at the GAIAS (Galapagos Academic Institute of Arts and Science) are available through IESAbroad and via other university programs.

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