In the past we have used this time of year to review our achievements and milestones but this year in the name of transparency i’d like to bring to light some of the problems or growing pains we’ve been having and are trying to resolve.
For a little perspective on how far we’ve come check out the reviews for 2010 and 2011.
As most of you who read this blog know the amazing Jennifer Kim has returned to the US and until her replacement Sam Bale from Switzerland arrives on January 3rd its been hard to cope with all the workload.
Until then we thank you for your patience and promise we’ll be working our asses off to resolve some of these issues. Below is a list of some of these problems and the ways we are going to try and resolve them.
The Tyranny of Distance
Ecuador is a small country which makes it easier than most to traverse from its Coast to Amazonian border. While some of our volunteer programs are easy to check on regularly, revise, and improve other more remote programs are almost impossible to keep an eye on.
This means we have to have trust that the community or group of people we work with on the other side of the country are acting in the best of faith and living up to their obligations. Unfortunately this is not always the case and our trust in the past has been misplaced and we are forced to close the program.
An example of one of the volunteer programs we have closed this year is the Marine Life Rescue Center. After scouting out programs on the coast we discovered a great little community based organization that rescued sea-life before rehabilitating and releasing them. It seemed like our amazing Animal Rescue Center but on the coast.
We explained to them what Ecuador Eco Volunteer is all about, how we can send volunteers that will help provide manpower and much needed funds to the organization.
They showed us where the volunteers can stay, the fridge and kitchen, and the tasks they will be required to do, and made many more promises. It seemed like the perfect partnership until a few months later we find out that the volunteers are doing very little, the sea-life wasn’t being released, and they had even removed the fridge!
Right now there is another program that because of the tyranny of distance is suffering the same fate. We have refunded everyone who has booked this program in 2013 and unless the program is able to be salvaged fast it will be cut.
Volunteer Program Lifecycle
If a volunteer program is successful does that mean it should run forever? I guess that depends on the program. The Animal Rescue Center and the original Mangrove Reforestation program were our first two programs we’ve worked with since the beginning.
Earlier this year we had to stop sending volunteers to the NGO that ran the Coastline Conservation program because of complaints that there was nothing to do and that the organizers didn’t seem interested in anything but the money.
This was hard for us to understand why a volunteer program that previously had such RAVE REVIEWS had turned to shit.
We sent Jeniffer on a 12 hour bus journey to Muisne to find out what was happening and see if the volunteer program could be salvaged and returned to its former glory. The new management took in all of her ideas, said how they were going to lift their game, and we sent more volunteers and they didn’t even pick them up at the station or have living quarters arranged for them.
We then closed this Coastline Conservation Program which was quite unfortunate because it was a great program supporting an incredibly vulnerable ecosystem. Fortunately Jennifer found another great program on the coast on Isla Corazon
How We Are Resolving These Problems
Once Sam arrives and the administration workload can be more evenly distributed we will have time to tackle these problems head on. Sam and I will be visiting many of the volunteer programs and forming a plan of attack to improve
Managing Volunteer Expectations
We are working on making the description of every volunteer program as accurate as possible to ensure volunteers know what they should expect. At times this is hard because I will write a description that I believe is accurate from my perspective but from others its not.
In the Animal Rescue Center for example there was a percentage of volunteers that believed they would be with the animals 100% of the time, even though this is inhibitive of their rehabilitation. To resolve this I sat down and talked with Lucero who runs the center and she helped me write this post: Animal Rescue Center Volunteer Expectations.
Increasing Volunteer Support
There are a number of ways we are working on increasing our Volunteer Support to make volunteers feel they have a safety net under them in case anything happens. In the new year when Sams here he will have a work phone topped up with credit to answer and resolve any problems volunteers may have.
Also, for those of you who have signed up in the last month and onwards you will be receiving an 18 page “ECUADOR ORIENTATION PACK” full of detailed and specific travel and health advice to prepare you for your adventure in Ecuador. I worked on this booklet for months and none of the information in it has been copied from the Lonely Planet or Internet, its all my personal advice after backpacking South America for 5 years. I hope you enjoy it.
Via the Anonymous Volunteer Surveys we are able to gauge exactly what you think of the program and how it should be improved (if you answer it, that is!)
We send out a load of Volunteer Surveys to all of the volunteers that have finished their program every three months. It asks questions like: a) Was the description of the volunteer program accurate, b) what didn’t you like about the program, c) what do you recommend to improve the program, and a tonne of other questions.
By helping us answer this survey you will be helping us enormously in improving our volunteer programs and the change we are able to facilitate, with your help, in Ecuador.
Here is to an amazing 2013!