I had researched several volunteer organizations before I decided on A Broader View. As I have run an international volunteer organization, I know what a good organization looks like. So, I was a "tough customer".
A Broader View not only met my expectations, it exceeded my hopes.
No, I am not kidding, nor am I exaggerating.
During the informational phase and the application process, employees at A Broader View were thorough, professional and prompt, not to mention helpful, kind and understanding. I never waited more than 24 hours for a response (sometimes even on weekends!). I was relentless with my questions (in part because of my background, and in part because I was heading off to an unknown part of the world, where I knew no one and didn't speak the language). I received polite and informative answers from seemingly tireless ABV employees Sarah, Lynn and Lori. Everyone I had contact with was attentive, helped me find the right volunteer job and calmed my fears. They also checked in during my stay and followed up after my stay.
One of the beauties of A Broader View is that I was able to leave when I wanted; I wasn't tied to particular program dates. This was a distinct advantage for me. They also helped me get an extremely reasonable flight to Quito and very inexpensive travel insurance.
With their partner in Quito, they provided me with a host family and a volunteer job within weeks, and several weeks before my departure. I received a packing list and other helpful suggestions to help plan my trip.
Once in Quito, the incredible service and support continued. I was met at the airport by Germán, and brought to my WONDERFUL host family. My family greeted me warmly (at 1:30 AM in the middle of the week), and I was pleasantly surprised with the standard of the lodgings. I was taken into the family and shown much love and acceptance throughout my 3 months with them. There was another volunteer there for the first two months, and we became fast friends, despite our 40 year age difference! We worked at the same place and lived in the same apartment, and together we laughed, cried, complained, encouraged each other, went out, and participated in the family.
From past experience with host families, I knew that living with a host family can have its problems. Since I was over 20 years older than my "host parents", I wasn't sure how that would go. There were a few very small hiccups (and not for the difference in age), that, because of the willingness of all of us to discuss things together openly, were resolved in easy discussions.
My volunteer jobs were wonderful. The first 6 weeks, I worked with 2-year-olds at a day care center in one of the poorest sections of the city. I am not going to tell you it was an easy transition. The poverty I had to pass every day, the conditions I saw, the real suffering of some of the children and families were all extremely difficult to assimilate. The differences between Euro-American and Ecuadorian cultures are not small. Yet, the children... oh, the children. They captured my heart. I'll never forget the day about 2 weeks after I started, and they were going down for their naps (the time I always left each day). I said goodbye to them as usual, and for the first time, 9 little hands waived from their beds and several voices were saying goodbye ("chao"). One little voice, said, "Chao, Burbuja!" They couldn't yet remember "Barbara", so they called me the closest thing they were familiar with, "bubble". From then on, I was putty in their hands...
After 6 weeks, my Spanish was improving, and I was able to change programs and work at a shelter for abused women and their children -- something I had experience in, from the U.S. Again, the staff at La Fundación (A Broader View's partner in Quito) had arranged for me to volunteer there. It, too, was challenging -- and rewarding.
I also signed up for 4 hours of Spanish per day. I will say, it was tiring that first month, volunteering for 4 hours a day and then having 1-on-1 Spanish lessons for 4 academic (4 45-minute) hours, 5 days a week. HOWEVER, the teachers at S.B. are excellent! I learned so much in 4 weeks. I continued to take Spanish twice a week after my first month.
The Spanish school really takes wonderful care of its students, as well. In the evenings, there are cooking lessons, salsa lessons, football (soccer) games to play or watch, cocktail evenings, weekend trips -- all either free or at very reasonable prices. I especially recommend the weekend trips. What a wonderful way to see other parts of the country. It's also a great way to get to know others who are sharing the same experience.
I just want to reiterate that I cannot say enough about A Broader View. It is, at least in my experience, one of the best-run volunteer organizations I have ever come into contact with (and remember, I have worked in a few and run an international office of another). I don't believe I could have chosen a better organization or had a better experience.
Thank you to all of you at A Broader View.
With much gratitude,