Reflections by Cameron Petrey; Travel nurse, backpacker, and now former FIMRC Ambassador at Project Anconcito, Ecuador
It's my last day here in Anconcito and I am spending it here amongst friends and family. I say family because my host family was treated me like a part from the first day I walked in.
And it hurts a bit.
But this is what I wanted.
To feel like a part of something, a community.
To be in a place long enough to really get to know the people.
My journey was nurse, backpacker/traveler and then.... Both.
I had already been a nurse for 9 years. It is my career, my dedication and I cannot imagine myself doing anything else.
I first went to Japan, just for a few weeks because I have friends who live there. It was during this trip I quickly realized that I enjoyed going at slower pace than most tourists.
I came back to San Francisco to prepare for my next trip, which would be up to a year. I already knew it would be in South America. I had lived for two years in Brazil when I was younger and I already knew Latin American culture was warm and welcoming.
I arrived and I had already been traveling in Colombia a month and a half when the opportunity to volunteer teaching English fell into my lap. This experience was only 6 weeks, but I found that I really enjoyed staying in one place and getting to know people.
After finishing my English teaching experience, I actively started looking for volunteering experiences along my route, this time putting my nursing skills to use. This resulted in a 3 week stint of medical volunteering in Colombia.
I continued traveling into Ecuador and a little bit of serendipity put me into contact with FIMRC. I was hiking around a lake near Otovalo when I bumped into two hikers. In the course of conversation one informed me that he was traveling a bit before volunteering at Project Anconcito.
As I was looking for something along these lines I asked him to repeat the name a few times so I would be able to look it up.
I sent in my CV and references and soon I was having my interviews with FIMRC headquarters and with Field Operations Manager Natalie. I expressed my views regarding NGOs (that they should be sustainable, that they should be in support of community leadership) so much so that I worried that I was rambling and made a bad impression. However, I soon received an email that I had been accepted for the internship at Project Anconcito. I soon found that FIMRC more than shared my views on these topics. What's more, I found that there funding does not come from grant money, this way more resources can be spent on the community.
FIMRC gave me many opportunities to not only serve the community of Anconcito, but to feel like a part of it. First off, I was placed with a wonderful and loving host family, the Clemente Reyes. It did not take long to feel like a part of the family. Even know I call my host mom “Aurora mama” when we talk and she calls me “hijo.” As they know many people in the community, it wasn't hard to start meeting people. Another thing that helped me feel like a part of Anconcito was attending the basketball games of the team that FIMRC sponsors. The Thursday nights of basketball were also opportunities for the community to gather informally. I soon met players and friends of not only my team, but other teams as well. From there invitations to play pickup soccer and have a drink or two came. In this way, "they" quickly turned into "we" instead.
Unlike many other sites, Project Anconcito does not have a clinic. What is there for a registered nurse like me to do? As it turns out, plenty. I did home health visits for seniors and the disabled together with the Ministry for Social Inclusion. I vaccinated with the nurses of the Ministry of Public Health. I did health education with pregnant women, children all the way to hospice situations. I was able to get a program started for the diabetics in the community that made a difference.
I had mentioned in my interviews that part of my reasons for being a longer term volunteer were selfish. I already knew that I enjoyed staying in spots for longer periods of time and getting to know the people. And that was the most fulfilling part of my work. I was helping people who I considered friends. I was helping a community that was in part, my community.
Cameron is a travel pro. We asked what advice he’d give someone looking into international Volunteer opportunities.
Cameron’s Travel Tips:
1. Take your time. Give yourself time to get lost, to put in unexpected activities. When making reservations, I soon found myself putting one more day than I thought I needed. Haven't regretted it.
3. Stay in a place long term through volunteering. The best memories of my travels haven't necessarily been the places I have been (although I have been to some pretty awesome places!), but the people I have met and the friends I have made. Long term volunteering with FIMRC is a pretty much awesome excellent way to do this.
4. Get off the tourist trail. Some of the best ways to actually experience the culture of a place is to do this.
5. Plan ahead. But also don't. There has been plenty of times I wish I had done more in advance. But there have also been many times I have been grateful that I did not.