Name: Ana Catarina Esteves
Hometown: Lisbon, Portugal
Languages spoken: Portuguese, English (fluent) and Spanish (advanced)
University: Nova School Of Business And Economics
Degree: Management Major In Marketing
Past travel experience: Avid
Volunteer Abroad: Assisting at a Day-Care Center in Quito, Ecuador
Duration: 3 weeks
Start month: July 2015
Claim to fame: An inspiring game changer who engaged on a hike with local people and actually got to learn how to fish. A true UBELONGer at heart!
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to be part of an international volunteer program. I’ve always believed it to be a true game changer and a great life experience. What had stopped me from doing it before, were the programs that I had found thus far, either they were too long or the project simply was not interesting enough for me to invest my money and time on it.
Once I got to know UBELONG and did a little research on their programs, international volunteering became a much more realistic idea for me. Essentially, I chose UBELONG for three main reasons. First, the flexibility provided when it comes to choosing for how long you want to volunteer, The majority of programs I’ve heard of before were either too long or too short, it’s great being able to choose for exactly how many weeks you want to volunteer. Second, the myriad of countries and projects available, I knew I wanted to work with children, but between Asia, South America or Asia it took me a couple of months before I finally decided where I wanted to volunteer. And third, the affordability of the programs and the credibility of the organization, as safety is a major issue for me, and the fact that I had heard about some international experiences gone wrong.
What is your favorite memory?
During our stay in Quito we got close to Adriana (the one responsible for the meals and accommodation in the volunteer house) and her nieces and children, so in the last week of our program they invited us to join them in their hike towards “Las sietecientas” (“The seven hundred”) in Pifo, a mainly residential area in Quito where Adriana lives. The hike involved a 45-minute walk, seven hundred steps (thus, the name “Las sietecientas”) and trout fishing. We tagged along, the kids really wanted us to come and we couldn’t miss a chance of testifying and being part of an Ecuadorian family tradition (sort of). We left a Monday afternoon, after a full morning of volunteering, and caught a bus headed to Pifo, eight people in total, along with some of the hottest musical hits in the country. Almost an hour later and after a very tiring hike (especially with the altitude), and after descending 350 step and ascending another 350, we were rewarded with one of those amazing Ecuadorian views, cascades, mountains and volcanoes included. It was truly a super fun afternoon, which comprised playing and taking photos in a small river, and fishing that consisted of throwing a wood stick with a wire attached to a pond and hoping for the best. In pairs and among the six of us that were actually fishing, we were able to catch 4 trouts that we ended up eating for lunch in the following day. It was great spending more time with the children bonding and watch their excitement over the fishes. Looking back, it was probably one of the most intense and tiring days we had during our program but it is also a memory that I will hold very close to my heart for a long, long time. I miss them like crazy!
What did you take from the experience?
I take the people I’ve met during the program, the friends I made and a true family I will always treasure. I take all the colors and patterns that adorn Ecuadorian clothes and the super sweet pastries characteristic of their country. But above all, I take the optimism with which Ecuadorians face the struggles of life, I take the simplicity with which they live their lives, and I take their deep love and respect for mother nature (or pachamama in Kichwa).
What advice would you tell a future volunteer?
The advice would be to be as open and open-minded as possible. To get involved and truly enjoy everything the country has to offer. To put yourself at the service of others and be generous, because what you give is indeed what you get, except that in this case what you get is ten times better than what you give.