VP Charles Chiparo Shares Experience Volunteering in Ecuador With UBECI

Webcor VP Charles Chiparo shares his experience volunteering with kids in Ecuador.

June 6, 2024


by Charles Chiparo, Vice President

A few months ago, I decided to combine my passions for giving back, learning Spanish, traveling internationally, and volunteering by embarking on my first volunteer-vacation. I’ve always experienced deep satisfaction and joy from each of these experiences.

Going into the process, I knew I wanted to work with disadvantaged children in a developing nation—preferably a Spanish-speaking one. My online search for international volunteer-vacation opportunities quickly led me to the homepage of International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ), a volunteer abroad organization.

IVHQ handled all the initial coordination and arranged my volunteer trip to Ecuador, where I’d spend a life-changing week supporting United to Benefit Ecuadorian Children International (UBECI) through on-the-ground, hands-on work. Before I knew it, I was standing in the home of my host family in Quito, Ecuador.

Daily Activities

In the poorest parts of Quito, children are often left partially or completely unattended by their parents, who spend the majority of their days working at local outdoor markets.

One of four markets I worked
I spent between one and three hours per day on the public bus, getting to and from the markets. Each bus cost $0.35.

UBECI aims to strengthen and maintain the emotional and physical stability of these kids, who are left to either sit next to their parents all day in the often-cold, windy, and rainy weather or to roam Quito’s dangerous streets unsupervised. UBECI also establishes awareness amongst parents about the importance of education in all areas.  As you may be aware, Ecuador is currently facing civil unrest driven by drug trades in neighboring countries and local drug lords’ response to recent elections.  These conditions exacerbate the already significant safety risks facing Quito’s children.

Each day, we wove through the huge, chaotic market and gathered the children (ages 3—15) from participating families. We’d walk at least another mile to a relatively secure space where we could work with the children for a few hours.

These “secure spaces” looked nothing like the areas in which our own children play in the US. Coming face-to-face with the conditions in which we were teaching such young students was surreal—exposed rusty nails were common, so it was critical that we cleaned the entire space before bringing in the children.

Like Back on My Feet and KEEN (other nonprofits I've worked with), we start or end with circle-up and a song to provide order and a sense of community and fun.
One of the brilliant aspects of UBECI is their inclusion of a psychologist at each volunteer session.  This licensed professional guides us on how to assess the children (above), then develop/modify the program according to group needs (physical, emotional).
Teaching the children about hygiene and the importance of washing hands
Finger-painting to improve hand-eye coordination and spark creativity

Challenging math homework for this 13-year-old

Despite these tough conditions, the kids laughed, smiled, hugged one another, and happily ran around the crowded space. When provided the basics (love, attention, and guidance), they seemed almost impervious to their challenging surroundings.

Our group learning to jump rope, laughing, and having fun while seemingly unaware of their challenging surroundings (background)
These children's most common desires: physical contact, hugs, and attention

Living in Quito

In exchange for my service, I was placed with a host family in the poor south side of Quito.

I come from blue-collar roots. My dad was a pipe-fitter, and my mom was a teacher. However, living in relative squalor was really hard. My very cold, concrete bedroom, aka “The Fridge,” was located in the basement. They had no access to indoor heat, so the room was about 48 degrees at night. I slept with lots of clothes, so it was sort of like camping.

There is a large, 120-foot statue of The Virgin facing north, towards the historic center of Quito. The south side of Quito has been plagued with so much poverty and deprivation of basic necessities that many locals told me, “Things are so hard here, even the Virgin has forgotten about us and turned her back to us.”

Security guard in my neighborhood

Ways to Support

A donation as seemingly small as $10 goes INCREDIBLY far in Ecuador.  An enormous meal sometimes cost me as little as $2.50—and that was likely the increased ‘tourist price’ they charged me, as I was clearly not a local.

I spent a full week with UBECI, boots on the ground. This incredible nonprofit is doing amazing work, but its resources are extremely thin. If you gained anything whatsoever from this article, please consider donating. It would mean a lot to me and the children who participate.

Click here to donate to UBECI.

Outside of spending time with my own children, this was one of the most rewarding weeks I have had in a long time.  Again, even $10 helps fund school supplies, snacks, cleaning supplies, etc. Thank you.