First Volunteer Abroad Experience Launches Retiree on Service Career
In this guest post, Ecuador volunteer Gordon Smith takes us along on his step-by-step discovery of service abroad with preschool children and their teachers in our partner community. Secure as a father and grandfather, he knew he’d relate well to small children – even if they spoke a different language from him. In surrendering to his “inner child,” he models the delight of unselfish service! Read on and see if this is the type of volunteer abroad experience you seek!
By Gordon Smith
Volunteer travel is new to me and – it turns out – very rewarding. It felt good to serve by assisting with childcare and teaching conversational English classes in Calderón, Ecuador. Now with this happy experience behind me, I have booked two more trips with Global Volunteers. I’ve decided when I go to Tanzania for three weeks, I want to work with preschool children again. Here’s how my first program – and my future of service – unfolded:
Becoming a Team
On Saturday, July 6, 2019, I arrived at the Mariscal Sucre International Airport outside Quito, Ecuador, where a van picked up two other volunteers and myself and transported us to the Sandmelis Hotel. Our hotel “home” in Quito provided excellent rooms, free Wi-Fi, delicious food, and great service. We settled in and got acquainted with the rest of our team. The next day, Sunday, was devoted to orientation. There was a lot of information to cover before we started our work assignments on Monday. Our group of 15 volunteers with Maggie as our Team Leader was Team #183 to Ecuador, a vital link in a long chain of volunteers dating back to 1996, when the Global Volunteers program in Ecuador was started. At orientation, we learned that about half of our team would work on labor projects at the children’s center and the other half would assist teachers with the children. Having been a father to three sons and a daughter, and a grandfather to four grandsons and four granddaughters, I decided to work with the preschool children.
An Organized Work Schedule
Each morning after breakfast, we had our volunteer meeting for that day. The day’s activities were covered, as well as an inspirational message from a volunteer, and a report on the previous day’s activities from another volunteer. We then took two mini buses for the half-hour trip to Calderón, where the FUNDAC early childhood development centers are located. We worked in Center Number 1 in the center of Calderón. Center Number 2 was located in a more rural area on the outskirts of Calderón. The classes are divided into three different age groups: one-year-olds, two-year-olds, and three-year-olds. Children who reach the age of four graduate from the center and go on to a government preschool program.
Each day for two weeks, I worked with a teacher named Ruby and her raucous class of three-year-old girls and boys. To be honest, I was concerned if I would be able to keep up with the kids, since I am retired and 70 years old. But it really was no problem! Ruby and I worked together for two weeks teaching the kids lessons, helping with their meals and snacks, playing games, and singing and dancing together. The children were also able to learn some English words from me. The children were also taught proper hygiene by brushing their teeth and washing their hands with soap and water. For fun, I taught the kids in our class and other classes the electric finger game. In this game, when the child and I touch our forefingers together, I make a sound like electricity and jump around like I have been shocked. (The kids really loved this game!) Fortunately, I had some practice with the electric finger game with my own grandchildren. Spending time with these young children each workday was a true joy for me.
“Spending time with these young children each workday was a true joy for me.“– Gordon Smith
When the children laid down to take their naps, the teachers and volunteers would get together at tables in the dining area and work on handicrafts. After the kids were picked up by their parents, some of us volunteers would teach basic English to the teachers. It was a double blessing, spending time with the kids during class, and being with the teachers after school teaching conversational English.
Meanwhile, the Work Outside…
Our labor group did a great job on the childcare center building. Walls were prepared so that tiles could be placed on them to protect against water damage. The old chain link fence was removed from the top of the wall and replaced with new metalwork. They painted beautiful murals on the outside walls of the building. And a very nice playhouse was constructed and painted, along with wood furniture to go inside it.
It wasn’t all work, either. On weekends, we were able to take a cable car up a mountain in Quito, visit the equator, eat in restaurants, visit Old Town, and go shopping. We were a close-knit group of volunteers and we had a lot of fun working together and spending our free-time together. Maggie did a wonderful job as our Team Leader. The teachers and children really appreciated our presence each day. As volunteers, we enjoyed working at the early childhood development center and felt that our experiences there were meaningful and memorable.
“The teachers and children really appreciated our presence each day. As volunteers, we enjoyed working at the early childhood development center and felt that our experiences there were meaningful and memorable.”
– Gordon Smith
Personally, my experience volunteering in Quito was important to me in different ways. Words really fail to describe everything. But, I’ll try: My time in Ecuador was educational, entertaining, humbling, memorable, emotional, heartwarming, and joyful. I feel so grateful for the opportunity to have served in Ecuador. The Ecuadorian people are hardworking, kind, loving, and helpful. The children are bright and beautiful.
Working as a volunteer at the early childhood development center was very rewarding. I quickly became attached to the adorable children as we learned together, played games, sang songs, and danced to music. I enjoyed working with their teacher, Ruby, who impressed me with her teaching, closeness to the kids, and, when necessary, her discipline. The people from Ecuador I met at the equator and at a restaurant were friendly, helpful, and welcoming. Thank you, Global Volunteers, for providing us with the opportunity to make a positive difference in the world!
“Volunteer travel is new to me, and very rewarding.”
– Gordon Smith
For more on volunteering in Ecuador:
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