Name: Kristina Morgan
Nationality: United States
University: Georgian Court University
Languages spoken: English, Spanish (intermediate)
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Forest Conservation in the Amazon, Ecuador
Duration: 3 weeks
Start month: June 2014
Claim to fame: Played softball tournaments with an amateur team when she was in high school and in college!
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
As a requirement by my school, I am advised to volunteer. One requirement states that 10 hours must be served in the community and that a paper needed to be written describing what I had learned from the time I put forth. Another option was to travel or study abroad. I decided to combine the two and volunteer abroad as my second graduation requirement. My wonderful friend, Jamie Smith, researched opportunities and told me of one she found that seemed like a good fit for both of us. I looked into it and fell in love with the UBELONG organization and the projects it offered in helping the environment. I loved the idea that I could help a preexisting effort in another country through the simple gift of time and effort.
What was your impact on your volunteer project?
I volunteered in the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest. The other volunteers and I helped in the medicinal and botanical gardens as well as maintained, planted, and harvested crops in the organic gardens. I was part of a labor force that is necessary to take care of the beautifully created sections of the reservation. I thought I was going to be planting trees and carrying out large projects, such as creating new trails, but when my work days started, I realized that I was needed in other ways. Tasks like weeding crops, tilling soil, raking leaves, and organizing saplings seemed like remedial jobs but by providing that labor meant that the local team was able to focus on other larger tasks at hand. Also, every job that I was a part of had a higher purpose. Weeding and tilling soil helped crops yield more fruit and vegetables. Raking leaves meant the reservation looked nicer but also helped continue a compost pile where rich soil was made after the leaves decomposed. This soil gave nutrients to trees growing in the Vivieron that would eventually be placed in the actual forest. I understood that my help was to make a greater goal attainable and being there, able to lend a hand, made me feel like I was such a huge contributor. The work of many years of volunteers before myself helped the reservation progress to the point it is at today and knowing this, made me feel like I was truly helping to make an impact.
I feel like I left the reservation knowing that I had an impact on the local workers as well as the reservation. We had made many jokes, even with the language barrier. I find myself still laughing at some of the conversations we would try to have and the facial expressions that told me so much more than anything words could describe. I made friendship bracelets for the cooks and for my fellow volunteers. One night, both cooks came to me and asked in their best English if I would teach them how to make the bracelets. I felt so honored to share with them such a little skill that meant so much to them. The next day, I was given a bracelet and was told to always remember the reservation and the people there. That small gesture made me feel so appreciated and like everything I had been doing there was for the right reasons. My impact through volunteering wound up not only helping the reservation continue their conservation efforts but was also evident on each person I met along the way by simply sharing my personality and willingness to learn.
What advice would you tell a future volunteer?
There are several: know how to understand and speak Spanish well; be willing to always work hard; talk and interact with the other workers at the reservation.
These are the most hard working and genuine people I have met and if they know you are there to help them so by opening up they will teach you the most amazing life lessons.
Also, try to learn everything you can. The Amazon is a place where plants are treated like friends by the Kichwa people and they know plants by name. The plants are their medicine and are capable of saving lives. Expect lots of rain and insects but smile and laugh as much as you can.
Don’t be afraid to be exactly who you are because there is nothing to lose. You are there to help just like all the other volunteers and the quicker you show who you are, the more in depth friendships can become. Take healthy risks!
In a sentence or less, what did you think about the food?
The food was deliciously made from the organic vegetables we harvested and made from the people we were friends with so that in itself made it taste better and more appreciated than any food I’ve had before.