Meet Zach and Ayni (“Annie”)
Age: Zach, 28; Ayni, 27
Home country: USA
- What languages do you speak?
English and the tiniest amount of Spanish. We know enough to get by, which in our case means: book a hostel, take a bus, give directions to a taxi driver, and order Salchipapas from the local vendor in Salasaka. You know, the important stuff.
- How did you hear about SKY?
We found SKY on the internet, specifically volunteersouthamerica.net. We read the recommendations, scoured the website, and filled out our application. A few weeks later, we were here.
- Why did you want to volunteer with SKY?
Our time in Salasaka is sandwiched between a few weeks of traveling across Ecuador. We thought a volunteering experience would get us off the well-worn backpacker path, and give us some time to sit still during our whirlwind trip through this beautiful country. We also had an interest in teaching English, so it seemed like a near-perfect fit.
- How long will be volunteering with SKY?
Sadly, only two weeks. We have a limited amount of time in Ecuador and there’s so much to see. But even in this short amount of time we’ve been able to make great friends, so there’s always a chance we might come back. You never know!
- What is your education and/or work background?
Ayni has worked in marketing and has experience teaching English. Zach has worked in advertising. One of our goals for this trip was to explore different career options, and SKY has given us both an opportunity to try a lot in a short amount of time.
- Tell us about your past travel and/or volunteer experiences?
Zach has traveled widely across the US and has visited Mexico and Canada, but these six weeks in Ecuador are his first longer-term travel experience. Ayni has backpacked Europe, visited several countries in Latin America, and taught English in Turkey for nine months.
Both of us have a several years of experience volunteering as mentors for low-income children.
- What is a typical day at SKY like for you?
Eat, prep, teach, eat, prep, teach, sleep. But it’s never that straightforward. On Sundays or Mondays we take the bus to Ambato to buy groceries from the giant market. And on the weekends we take the bus to Baños to relax and eat arepas.
Ayni has found her groove teaching at the local public schools in the morning, and Zach has been helping write blog posts and promote SKY online. We also spend a lot of our time hanging out with the other volunteers, cleaning, and cooking. And there’s always a handful of surprise chores from Francisca, the house mother, when we wake up: take out the trash, water the garden, build a fence, build a bed, etc.
- What has been your favorite memory at SKY so far?
Our first week here one of the volunteers asked if we wanted to join her and the other volunteer to help a local University student with her thesis. She was writing it about tourism in the Salasaka area, and the plan was for her to take videos and photos of us visiting the local sights and “acting” like tourists. Easy enough, right? Well, apparently we didn’t know the plan very well. By the end of the day we had spent 10 hours hiking--er, bushwhacking--through the high-altitude marshes and overgrown hills of rural Tisaleo. We had sank ankle-deep in mud, frozen our feet, fallen on our behinds, and, for a few of us, been hit with some good ole Andean altitude sickness. But when we finished, all of us were happy it had happened. After all, we all claimed we wanted to travel off the beaten path. Ask and you shall receive.
- Is there anything you’d like to say to people interested in volunteering with SKY?
Do it. It can be challenging at times. And it’s hard to know what you’re getting yourself into, but with a traveler’s mindset and a willingness to make an impact, there’s plenty of adventure to be had and good to be done.
In hindsight, we wish we could have stayed longer and that we’d brought more supplies to share. Even a few extra sponges or tubs of soap purchased in Quito could have gone a long way. And bringing more gifts from the US to share with the kids would have been great too.