Volunteering with the NGO Photographers Alliance and Sustainable Roots in Ecuador
„A bucket of water needs every drop to be full. Your drop may be tremendously tiny, but if you are not there, the bucket is not full.“
These words by Toni Walters perfectly describe, why volunteering is important even though nowadays it is hip and trendy. If done for the right reasons, that is.
I am a big fan of volunteering and spend as many of my holidays volunteering in different projects as possible. This time, I had the opportunity to join a different experience of the same. I signed up for a week of volunteering at Sustainable Roots in Ecuador in a mentorship program of the NGO Photographers Alliance. You spend the week in a volunteering project, helping and taking pictures getting workshops and 1:1 tips by a professional photographer. The project can then use your best shots for fundraising and also a part of the program fees are used for that project as well as to save children around the world from preventable blindness.
Sounds to good to be true? All I can say, this was an amazing experience and a win-win situation for everybody. I got to up my skills and knowledge in photography, spent a week with amazing people in a superb project and just had the best of times.
What does Sustainable roots do? The project is the brainchild of founder Toni Walters, who came to Cosanga, Ecuador in 2004 to study caterpillars. A few years later, Sustainable Roots was officially launched and she stayed permanently in Cosanga.
The organization does everything to help the local community. They provide free education for all ages (english, arts, leisure etc.), organic gardening and reforestation projects and they organize monthly Mingas. Mingas are community work days where the whole town works together to improve the village. While we were there, they had a Minga to paint the newly built stairs in the village and to decorate it with a richly planted terrace system on both sides. The whole town was working hard, schlepping stones and plants, painting, digging, planting. And the result is stunning.
Cosanga is a small village in the Napo valley near Quito. The community is unlike any other community I have experienced so far. Everybody was extremely welcoming, warm and charming and they had a lot of patience with non-spanish speakers. And the kids were just amazingly cute, all of them. They were super interested in knowing our names and seeing our pictures and especially to get a hold on our cameras and phones to go take pictures themselves. And like the rest of Ecuador, the community was extremely affectionate and heartily and I could not help but fall in love with all of them.
Sustainable Roots can only work because of the help of many volunteers, short term or long term. Volunteers experience everything first-hand. They teach english at the organization and the local school, they help in the garden project as well as with the reforestation of the cloud forest. You hardly get a more hands-on volunteering experience than this.
The other benefits of spending time in Cosanga: Food is extremely yummy and you get to experience Ecuadorian specialties like Cevichocho or Empandas verde - and all that on a shoestring. Also, you get to be outdoors a lot and indulge in being in a cloud/rainforest area with the most incredible diversity of green you can think of. Imagine the joys of running around in rain boots almost every day, jumping from puddle to puddle.
And did I mention the kids of Cosanga?
Are you intrigued and want to book your stay with Sustainable Roots in Cosanga? Check out the link in the TRAVEL TIPS section for more details. I promise, you won’t regret going there.
I am a swiss photographer (www.sustainable.photography), a travel, wildlife, volunteer and outdoors addict who cares about zero waste, the environment and simply our planet.
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