Service Learning &
Social Change in Ecuador:

Volunteer Delegations for Adult, University and
High School Groups

Why Ecuador?

Nowhere in the Americas can you find a concentration of cultural
and ecological diversity to rival that of Ecuador’s.

This diversity was the setting for the fluorescence of some of the
hemisphere’s most advanced early civilizations. These indigenous
cultures were greatly damaged --but not destroyed-- by the
disease, violence, and lust for gold and silver that accompanied
the Spanish Conquest. Later, U.S. economic and military policy
took its toll on the political autonomy and human rights of average
Ecuadorians. The post-Columbian experience of Ecuador and the
Andean region has largely been a byproduct of two clashing
philosophical and cultural systems resulting from the physical and
economic colonization of Latin America.

Today --more than 500 years after the Conquest-- Ecuador is a
fascinating country steeped in political self-transformation,
incredible cultural diversity, popular social change movements,
and highly organized ecological and economic justice activism.
The economic crisis that spurred the government’s decision to
dollarize the economy in 2000, also sparked the rise to power of
Pachakutik, the world’s most successful Indigenous-based political
party, and a national reexamination of state power and
agricultural policy. Social movements in Ecuador are at the global
forefront of grassroots political organization and egalitarian land

This course provides students with the opportunity to learn about
sustainable development, land use conflict and management, the
effects of “free trade,” and the incredible social dynamism of
Ecuador through Service Learning work, community home stays,
and talks with political activists, politicians, economists, students,
campesino and indigenous organizations, and the rural agrarian
people that are the backbone of Ecuadorian and global society.

  • The following talks can be presented during the trip:

Ecuador in the eye of the hurricane: The geopolitical crux
of South America’s shift left-
Peter Shear, course instructor

The history and folklore of colonial Quito- Zahira Quitiguiña,
art historian

Free Trade and the threat to national food security and
campesino autonomy-
Santiago Moreno, agronomist, Distrito
Metropolitano de Quito

The Indigenous political movement: National and local
Auki Tituaña, Mayor of the Cantón de Cotacachi and
presidential candidate

The birth of the Ecuadorian Indigenous Movement:
Transito Amaguaña, the first Levanamientos, and their
Members of Condor Hausi youth movement, Yacuchimba,

The History of the Otaveleño People and Quichua
- Patricio Lima, historian, author of La Majia de la
Sabiduria Andina

The fight against copper mining in the cloud forests of
Representatives of Defensa y Conservación Ecológica de
Intag (DECOIN)


  • These are only two of dozens of itineraries that can be
    custom designed to meet group interests and goals.

  • A 9 Day Itinerary is ideal for a Spring Break delegation.

  • Itineraries are flexible and can be changed to address
    group interests including a Spanish Language component

9 Day Itinerary

1- Arrive in Quito late; rest-up.

2- Breakfast; walking tour of Viejo Quito colonial center.

Our tour will start in Parque Alameda, the site of the April, 2005
protests that brought down president Lucio Gutierrez. From the
park we will walk up to the gothic Basilica de Quito where we can
take in 360 degree views of the city and the Central Andean
Valley. Other stops will include el Teatro Sucre, la Catedral
Compania, el Museo de la Ciudad, and la Plaza Grande, symbolic
center of Ecuadorian government and church power. The tour is
followed by a lunch and organizational and info meeting.

Dinner. Slideshow and overview of the socio-economic history of
Ecuador and recent political events.

3- a.m: travel to the world famous Otavalo market about 2.5 hours
from Quito (throughout the trip, we will be traveling as a group in a
chartered” Greyhound” type bus); lunch;

p.m: travel to the Quichua town of Cotacachi, near Otavalo;
dinner and talk with Patricio Lima, a life-long resident and author
of two books exploring the culture, history, and cosmovision of the
Otavalo people.

4- a.m: travel to The Intag Region and the town of Nangulví, our
home for the next few days.

The Intag region of northern Ecuador is located on the western
slope of the Andes between Cotocachi and Los Bancos, in the
river valley of the same name. The valley was a pre-conquest
trading route and sparsely inhabited until a seasonal road was
constructed in the 1960s. The opening of the valley to vehicles
brought colonists desperate for land and the area quickly grew a
reputation for its excellent soil and hot climate: perfect conditions
for a wide variety of market crops. Because the valley traditionally
connected the coast and sierra, colonists from both regions
arrived, forming a fascinating mix of Afro-Latino, Otavalo, and
Kayambi cultures, traditions, languages, and agricultural
techniques. Today, the Intag valley has gained a reputation for its
staunch resistance to mining interests and an investment in
sustainable development and eco-tourism.

volunteer work project takes place in the village of Pucará
where we will help in the construction of basic, low-cost housing
for economically marginalized families. We stay in cabins next to
the hot springs of Nangulví, just down the road, where the local
youth organization has developed a cooperatively operated
tourism complex. The housing project, started by the group
Building Community and co-organized by Inter-American CASA
www.intercasa.org, has the goal of constructing 25 low cost
homes in the village by 2010. Each home costs approximately
$1700 and the land has been donated by the local church. A
Housing Committee representing the different sectors of Pucará
democratically decides which families receive housing and in what
order. To receive a house, family members are expected to work
on all subsequent home construction. In this manner, a sense of
project solidarity is rooted in the community.

We help in the whole construction process: digging foundations,
mixing cement, laying blocks, and pouring concrete floors. This
project is an excellent opportunity for students interested in a real,
meaningful, solidarity-based, volunteer experience in a beautiful
location. We will also have the chance while in the Intag Valley to
talk with youth, activist, and community groups on a variety of
subjects including sustainable development planning, politics,
small scale agricultural models, and cooperative enterprise and
micro-credit programs.

5- Pucará volunteer project

6- Pucará volunteer project

7- Pucará volunteer project; evening festivities and dance to
celebrate the project.

8- return to Quito; p.m: end-of-trip dinner

9- Fly Home

Sample 15 Day Itinerary

Days 1-9: same as above

10- am: visit the Alto Chocó Cloud Forest (one of the most bio-
diverse spots on the planet); pm: return to Cotacachi; dinner

11- a.m.-dawn hike around and/or visit to the beautiful crater lake
of Lago Cuicocha;  p.m- free time.

12- a.m: Travel to the indigenous community of Yacuhimba, near
the town of Cayambe, about two hours west of Cotacachi; lunch.

High in the Andes,
the Kayambi community of Yacuchimba, or La
Chimba, has historically been a center of indigenous resistance to
colonization, going back to the invasion of the Inca and the
conquest of the Americas by the Spanish. In the 1950’s and 60’s
Yacuchimba was the focus of one of the first Indigenous
levantamientos, or uprisings, against the authority of the state.
This levanamiento was the first in a series that eventually forced
the land reform laws of the 1960s which broke up the haciendas.
The 96 year-old leader of this uprising, Transito Amaguaña, still
lives in a one-room house in town and has a cult-following among
Latin America’s egalitarian social change movement.

The Kayambi population live by farming and raising dairy cows,
with fields surrounded by mud walls planted with agave. Farms
average 6 hectares. But with an expanding population farms are
not large enough to split between the children, forcing many to
leave the land and migrate to the cities. Seeing sustainable
economic development as a requisite to preserving their culture, a
group of young people have joined together to develop
ecotourism as an alternative to migration.

They have formed an organization, Condor Huasi (House of the
Condor), and a hike to a natural hot spring with spectacular views
of the Cayambe Volcano. They also have formed a folkloric group
to perform traditional songs and dances of the Kayambi. Inter-
American CASA www.intercasa.org, is also helping with the project
through the development and promotion of a region-wide network
of hiking trails and a Museum of Kayambi Culture.

p.m: beautiful walk around town and the foothills of the Cayambe
Volcano accompanied by a talk about Ecuador’s land reform
struggle and indigenous political organizing and identity.

13- pre-dawn wakeup; one hour truck ride crossing the
Continental Divide to a beautiful lake on the Amazonian side of
the Andes where we breakfast and go birding; after visiting the
lake, a one hour hike takes us through an alpine páramo
ecosystem to natural hot springs with beautiful views of the
mountains and likely condor sightings; p.m: celebrate our stay
with traditional Kayambi music and folkloric dance.

14- am: breakfast; return to Quito. p.m: end-of-trip dinner

15- Fly Home


  • Peter Shear is the project organizer and bi-lingual
    Volunteer Delegation guide. He is a part-time Political
    Geography instructor at the University of Vermont, Director
    of Inter-American CASA and Coordinator of Intichakiñan

  • A healthy attitude and willingness to work in solidarity with a
    poor community are the only requirements to participate.
    Although a working knowledge of Spanish certainly
    enhances your experience, it is not required. Your bilingual
    guide will be available to translate talks, instructions, and

  • Besides the experiential education that comes from
    volunteer work, participants will learn about the culture,
    history, ecology, and politics of Ecuador, as well as
    community and state rolls in international geo-politics and
    the global economy.

  • Nothing ever happens on time in Ecuador. Accept it and
    enjoy your trip!
Inter-American Center for the Arts, Sustainability,and Action

Centro Interamericano para las Artes, el Sustento, y la Acción