We also gladly accept donations of medicines and lab tests to use in these programs! Ask for details.
"It is one of the most rewarding things you will ever do, and you will have the chance to use all your skills in a creative way. . . . You will also make friends with some of the most gracious people you will ever meet, and their gratitude will overwhelm you."
You can experience life in the highlands of Ecuador while sharing your valuable skills with villagers by joining this volunteer vacation. Be part of a team that provides medical care for schoolchildren and adult community members. After a lunch provided by the community, view breathtaking scenery by walking to the Peguche waterall or the legendary Lechero tree, or visit local craftspeople, such as Miguel Andrango, master weaver. A delicious dinner and time to socialize with this great group of travelers in a comfortable inn will cap off your day.
Short, but so much deeper than a tour, this opportunity is unique in its ability to connect you with people on another part of the planet. You will give to the community and be amazed by their show of gratitude. You will be guests, rather than tourists. It will scarcely seem possible to have made such friends in such a short time.
Cost: $1650 for one week or $2900 for two weeks does not include airfare but does include food, lodging, transportation within Ecuador, and all planned activities (based on double or triple occupancy. For single occupancy add $150 per week.) We provide one airport pickup on the first Saturday evening, and two options for transportation back to the airport, on the last Saturday night or Sunday morning. If your plans require different pickups or drop-offs, you will need to cover those on your own).
Sample Itinerary for Health Care Volunteer Vacations
Day 1 (Saturday)
Fly to Quito. We will send a bus to pick up participants at the airport on Saturday evening. Most flights arrive very late in the evening.
(We can no longer provide pickups at other locations or times.)
Welcome and orientation, learn your role and prepare for the week's work, language class, learn about the local culture.
Care for patients from about 9 am to 2 pm in elementary schools or rural health centers; eat lunch with community members; then enjoy afternoon activities such as a hike to a sacred sites, a visit with a traditional healer, or a cooking class.
Day 8 (Saturday)
Shop in the world-reknowned Otavalo market, enjoy a fun outing together as a group, such as to Mojanda Lakes or the Lechero tree. New volunteers fly into Quito, where you will be met by a car or van that will carry you two hours to Otavalo. Departing volunteers may fly out on late night flights or spend one more night at the hotel.
Orientation and Spanish class for newly-arrived volunteers.
Departing volunteers head to the airport early in the morning.
Care for patients from 9 am to 1 pm in elementary schools or community centers; eat lunch with community members; then enjoy afternoon activities such as hikes to beautiful sites or cooking class with local friends.
Day 15 (Saturday)
Shop in the world-renowned Otavalo market, enjoy an outing together as a group. Final dinner to celebrate. You may fly out on late night flights or spend one more night at the hotel.
Health Care Volunteer Vacations Frequently Asked Questions
Do volunteers need to have medical backgrounds (e.g., nurse, physician) or skills? What opportunities are there for people without medical training?
Volunteers do not need to have medical backgrounds. We usually have several health care providers (MDs, PAs) and a number of non-medical volunteers. Those without medical training are also important to making the process work. Some check patients in and ask basic questions, others take vitals, others assist the providers (as runners, holding things, consulting with other team members, etc), and still others organize our "pharmacy," counting out pills for prescriptions and others perform vision screening and help patients try on reading glasses. And people with other particular skills can sometimes find ways to use those too--for instance, one time a self-described "tinkerer" built a walker for a patient.
What type of health care services are provided by the volunteers?
We provide basic health care services--general medicine consultations, simple lab tests (urinalysis, strep, h. pylori, pregnancy, blood glucose, fecal occult blood), ultrasound imaging, dentistry, and medications. Our dental services include fillings, extractions, and prophylactic measures such as sealants and fluoride. Though we do not have the capacity to do full optometric exams, we can do vision screening and refer those who need distance glasses or opthalmological attention to another foundation, while providing reading glasses to those who need them. If patients need more care such as consultations with specialists and additional tests, our providers fill out referral forms. Tandana interns then work with these patients after the volunteer vacation is over to help them get to the hospital, lab, or specialists they need and receive further care.
Who seeks care for the services that are provided? What alternatives exist for people in the community/area?
Community members of all ages, both indigenous and mestizo, come to their community center or local school to take advantage of our services. Their alternatives are either to go to Otavalo to a private doctor, which can be quite costly, or to the local rural health center, where supplies and appointments are limited. For many patients it is a long way to get to the center, and some indigenous people complain that the nurses look down on them and treat them badly because of their race, so they prefer not to go.
Typically how large is the group of volunteers?
The groups are usually 10-15 volunteers with 4-6 Tandana staff.
Are volunteers required to speak Spanish? If not, how are interactions facilitated?
We have many volunteers who don’t speak Spanish. We offer basic (and fun) Spanish and Kichwa lessons during the trip to help volunteers learn at least enough to perform their roles, give basic instructions, and greet people. Each provider works with an interpreter. For interaction outside of work time, Tandana staff translate for the group.
Do I need vaccinations to go on this trip?
The CDC recommends vaccinations against Hepatitis A, typhoid, tetanus-diphtheria and measles. Yellow fever is recommended for other parts of Ecuador but not necessary in the mountains where we work. Vaccinations are up to your own discretion.
I've heard about the Zika virus. Should I be concerned for my health?
The Zika virus is carried by mosquitoes that generally live below 1200 meters, but Tandana works at much higher elevations--typically above 2000 meters. So the chances of encountering a Zika-carrying mosquito while with Tandana is quite low. Moreover, the main concern for Zika is the damage it can do to fetuses if the mother contracts the virus; for others, the clinical symptoms are mild. Nevertheless, if you plan to travel in lower elevations before or after your time with us, you might want to take precautions with an insect repellant approved by the EPA.
What are the accommodations?
Our health care volunteer vacation participants are provided lodging at a wonderful bed and breakfast right in Otavalo, Ecuador: La Posada del Quinde. Rooms all have private baths, comfortable beds, and are fully modern with the same electricity as the U.S. Wi-fi is available in the common area. Breakfast each day is a treat that offers fresh local fruits and juices, excellent coffee and a selection of hot breakfast items to start your day off right. The garden and patio area are an oasis with a view of 2 inactive volcanos. And the location is perfect for market shopping just 4 blocks away.
Will my electronic devices work in Ecuador?
Yes, Ecuador uses the same electrical currents and plugs as the United States does, so you don't need a special adaptor.
What should I pack to take on this trip?
We'll send you a "welcome" packet a month or so before your departure, which includes a suggested packing list.
What is the daily schedule like?
Each day we depart the hotel at 8 am and travel (from 10 minutes to an hour and a half) to a different community to work from about 9 until about 2. After lunch, we visit community members, meet students, a shaman, a master weaver, or indigenous leaders, or hike to sacred sites such as the Peguche waterfall and the Lechero tree. In the evening, we sample one of the many delicious dining options in Otavalo, and have a short debrief of the day's work.
Who leads the groups of volunteers? Who do I turn to when I need help?
All of Tandana's volunteer programs are led by a team of Program Coordinators who have first-hand knowledge of the region, speak both Spanish and English, have expertise in experiential education and group leadership, hold WFR (Wilderness First Responder) or other certifications that have prepared them to handle emergencies, and are caring and capable individuals. Our permanent local staff is always on hand to help with translation, activities, logistics, and anything else to make sure the volunteers' experience is the best it can possibly be. See here for bios of some Program Coordinators.
How does the HCVV fit into Tandana's overall health care program?
What percent of the trip fee goes to the community and for costs related to providing health care services?
The entire cost of the trip goes toward making the health care services and the volunteers' experience possible (food, lodging, transportation, Tandana staff, local professionals, medications, supplies, communication, activities, office expenses). If there is additional money after these costs are covered, it is used for patient follow-up services.
What if I can't find the answer to my question on this FAQ page?
Please email your question to us at email@example.com, and we'll answer it as quickly as we can.
In Ecuador, we work primarily in communities of the Quichinche parish, Otavalo canton, in the Ecuadorian Sierra. Just outside the market center of Otavalo, this area is only 2 hours by bus from Quito but offers a rural tranquility and connection to the land very different from life in the capital.
The father and mother volcanoes, Imbabura and Cotacachi, stand guard over the valleys and hills where indigenous Otaveleño and mestizo families grow their sustenance. Diverse in their customs, these villagers are united by their need to work together to improve their communities. They farm corn, potatoes, beans, and other crops, weave textiles and baskets, and commute to Otavalo for secondary education or formal-sector jobs. The Otavaleño are one of Ecuador's indigenous groups most successful at preserving their cultural identity and traditions. Speaking both Kichwa and Spanish, they have learned to negotiate the power structures of their nation while retaining a sense of indigenousness. The people of Quichinche work hard and also love to celebrate. In general, they are very welcoming to visitors and enjoy sharing food, joking around, and discussing their culture with their guests. The landscape that surrounds their home, meanwhile, offers high lakes, waterfalls, and volcanic peaks to inspire a sense of nature's grandeur. The region's 9000-ft. elevation and proximity to the equator combine to give it consistently comfortable temperatures (50's to 80's) all year round.
Through our health care program in Ecuador, The Tandana Foundation aims to improve rural community members’ access to basic health care and support local rural health professionals in caring for their population. Tandana’s health care work has two stages: community visits by groups that include North American health care providers and extensive follow up after these visits. We also support the local health centers with particular needs.
Our community visits are made possible through our Health Care Volunteer Vacation program twice a year and by custom programs we coordinate for hospitals or medical schools when possible. Volunteers including doctors, P.A.s, dentists, nurses, physical therapists, and willing assistants sign up for these programs and spend one or two weeks in Ecuador. Together with Tandana staff and local professionals including interpreters, these groups visit various communities in the canton of Otavalo. We coordinate with the Ecuadorian Consulates in the United States, the Ministry of Public Health, the Quinchinche and Gualsaqui Subcentros, the Mojandita Health Center, and the Union of Indigenous Communities of Quichinche. We have provided over 8,000 patient visits since we began the program in 2007.
Our Health Care Volunteer Vacation groups work mostly in communities pertaining to the Quichinche and Gualsaqui Subcentros (rural health centers). We collaborate with Subcentro staff to visit the more distant communities that are served by their center. The Subcentro staff are mandated to visit these communities regularly, but are given no funding to do so and have very limited supplies of medications. With Tandana’s help, they are able to fulfill their mission of providing care in these distant communities, from which access to the Subcentro is difficult.
When patients arrive at the school, community center, or health center where we are working, Tandana staff and volunteers take their names, ask basic questions, and take vitals, preparing them to see the health care providers. Working with interpreters, the providers examine the patients, make diagnoses, and prescribe medications from our portable pharmacy. We ask a contribution of 50 cents per family for the medications in order to encourage patients to take responsibility for their health and to promote valuation of the medicines. Following our providers' recommendations, a nurse or other volunteer performs basic laboratory tests, such as those for H. pylori, urinalysis, pregnancy, and streptococcus, on the spot and does ear cleanings as necessary. We are also able to do ultrasounds during our visits. Our providers fill out referral forms for any patients they feel need additional care, tests, or specialists.
During our community visits, we can also address dental, vision, pediatric, and preventative care needs. Volunteer North American and local dentists use our portable dental equipment to fill cavities, extract teeth, and do preventative treatments such as sealants and fluoride. For vision complaints, we conduct vision screening, provide reading glasses to those who need them, and refer those who require more specialized diagnosis and treatment to Fundacion Vista Para Todos. At schools, we weigh and measure the children, a nurse or doctor listens to their hearts and lungs, and we provide parasite medication if the children have not received it within 6 months of our visit. To round out our community visits, we also give educational talks on such topics as nutrition and family planning when time and human resources permit.
For all of these services, we keep records so that as patients return for subsequent community visits, we have their history available. Thanks to our new Electronic Medical Record system, we no longer have to haul around boxes of paper files, which lightens our load both literally and figuratively.
The Tandana Foundation is committed to providing culturally- and individually- respectful care. Volunteers receive an orientation including an introduction to the local culture and a discussion of the cross-cultural aspects of our work. Our team always includes at least one fluent Kichwa speaker, and we take the time to listen to patients fully even while trying to be efficient so that we can see more patients. We promote a spirit of collaboration with local health care options, including both professionals in Western medicine and traditional healers such as shamans, yachaks, and sabios. We see our work as complementary rather than contradictory to that of traditional healers, and we make efforts to meet with, discuss with, and learn from local individuals with these specialties.
Patient Follow Up
The second phase of our health care work begins after the visits to the communities have taken place. Tandana's Patient Follow Up Coordinator and interns review the referral forms and make a plan for where each of the patients needs to go. Staff communicate with the patients and advocate for them in the public health system. It is our goal that, through this process, patients learn how to use the system on their own.
Through many appointments, first at the rural health center, then at the hospital, and sometimes at specialized hospitals in the capital city of Quito or with other organizations such as Vista Para Todos or the Lions Club, patients access the care they need. Whether they need lab tests, specialists, surgeries, or eyeglasses, our Patient Follow Up Coordinator works tirelessly to help them access the resources that are available. We work primarily with the Ministry of Health, whose services are free to patients, and also with other foundations and low-cost options when the public system does not offer what a patient needs.
Unfortunately, access to health services is very difficult for people living in rural communities for the following reasons:
Lack of understanding of the procedures to be followed
Communication difficulties within the different levels of care
Difficulty scheduling appointments and long wait times
Cultural differences and language barriers
Patients from remote communities are not able to attend appointments in the afternoon
because no means of transportation are available for them to return home afterwards.
Our staff work with patients to navigate and overcome these difficulties so that they can benefit from the services to which they are entitled as citizens of Ecuador and improve their health. Our goal is to ensure that once patients are on track and learn how to navigate the challenging health system, from that point forward they are able to take advantage of its resources on their own.