Luis Bonilla - 2016 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

I was born in El Salvador and came to United States with very little, so I wanted to give back. I have been very fortunate with my health, family, and business, so it was a way to pay it forward.

Why did you choose to volunteer abroad with IVHQ?

I choose to volunteer with street children in Ecuador because I myself was a street child and was fortunate to advance past poverty.

Man on a cliff swing in Ecuador
Life is letting things go!

What was your favorite part your program?

The best part was sharing information with new volunteers and answering questions programs and trips that I had over the weekend.

What surprised you most Ecuador?

What surprised me most Ecuador was how welcoming the people are, and also how safe the country really is. Safety is always a concern when traveling and I feel like it was one of the safest places in South America.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

They were there 100 percent of the time to answer questions and give advice; they all do an amazing job.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I wish I would have taken more videos and pictures. I also wish I would have had an active journal or diary, so I could look back and read what I felt on a given day.

Couple spelunking in Ecuador
New travel buddy

What is your best piece of advice for future participants?

Come with an open mind and heart and you won't be disappointed!

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

My day started with teaching english to high school teens and ended with gathering kids, some as young as five, from local markets. Most of the kids from the market are forced to work long hours selling anything from peanuts to newspapers. We gave them three hours fun and joy when they could just play and learn once a week. The smiles on their faces are worth more than anything in this world.

The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope." - Barack Obama

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

Talking to locals and trying cheap street food. I also tried to pick up the local accents, so I myself could speak like a local.

What was your accommodation like?

I had basic living arrangements, a small bed and room with wifi. Although back home I am used to better living quarters, I felt at home in Ecuador because my host family was always around.

Man cutting a piece of cuy in Ecuador
Travel is trying new things!

What made your experiences in Ecuador unique?

I have been back to the states for a month and I keep in touch with five students and three other volunteers. These connections are very important to me as they shape the kind of person I am.

Do you have any packing tips for individuals headed to Ecuador?

If you're heading to Ecuador plan on having loose change. Yes, loose change, because breaking $20 and even $10 is hard to do. Your best bet is to go to gas stations in the day time and ask them to break big bills.

What was the hardest part volunteering abroad?

The hardest part of volunteering abroad would have to be the end when you say bye to your host family and friends. The connections are there, but everyone heads home. The easy part is keeping in touch through social media.

Is there anything you wish you would have known before volunteering abroad in Ecuador?

One thing I wish I would have known or been cautioned would have to be the high altitude. There was many times I would walk only a few blocks and would have to stop and catch my breath. If you are not in decent shape, you will have a hard time in getting adjusted to the high altitude.

Now that you're home, how has your time in Ecuador impacted your life?

I am a totally different person. I am a bit more thankful for a few things. I am also more passionate teaching, and now going to Colombia next month to teach English, I know what to expect.

What do you feel the biggest benefit of volunteering abroad is?

The biggest benefit is helping the needy, and also you enjoy helping them, so it's a two way street. You explore and help, and they give your trip a purpose; it's a win win situation.

Man standing near a waterfall in Ecuador
The reward after a long hike

Would you recommend IVHQ to others? Why?

Yes! If you're doing some soul searching and want adventure or to give back without expecting anything in return, just have an open mind and heart. You will fall in love and discover a new you.

If you could volunteer abroad again, where would you go?

My next trip is planned already I found a true passion in life and that is to teach English . Bogota, Colombia is my next destination and I will be teaching through IVHQ.