Volunteer Abroad Program Spotlight: IOI Galapagos


When it comes to volunteering abroad, selecting the right organization is critical. But with so many choices of projects, places, and types of volunteering expeditions to choose from, finding the right fit is not an easy task. As part of our mission to help prospective volunteers “Find and Fund” their perfect volunteer abroad experience, we occasionally highlight quality organizations and provide an in-depth look at what they offer. For this particular Volunteer Abroad Program Spotlight, we’re taking a look at IOI Galapagos.

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IOI stands for Intercultural Outreach Initiative and is located on Isabela Island, in the Galapagos archipelago off the coast of Ecuador. Founded in 2006, IOI Galapagos’ vision is to help establish and ecologically sustainable and socially stable local economy in the Galapagos by supporting education, conservation and social development. We have made some incredibly positive and impactful contributions to the local community and we are able to continue doing so with the help and support of volunteers that want to make a real difference.

In order to conserve this incredible place, it is important that the people living here appreciate the islands themselves, and so we aim to educate children and adults to value and conserve the beauty that surrounds them while supporting local initiatives. IOI Galapagos keeps growing and there is still so much more to do. So, help us help! Join us on our journey to conserve this incredible place while we still can.

Why IOI Galapagos?

The organization 
Mission: to work on the island of Isabela to generate educational, economic and social benefits for the community of Puerto Villamil.

No matter what work you do on Isabela, whether it’s working at the tortoise center, in the re-forestation program, English teacher, etc. you will see the difference and impact you are making in the community of Isabela on a daily basis.

The location
With a population of only 2700 people, Isabela is located in the far west of the archipelago. The remoteness of the islands may seem scary/intimidating at first but our past volunteers can tell you how far this is from the truth. If anything, it only adds more to the positive experience of living in the Galapagos Islands. How many people can say they have lived where the theory of evolution was born? On Darwin’s live laboratory? Walk barefoot down unpaved roads while marine iguana’s cross your path. Learn to speak Spanish while making friends with the locals. Go snorkeling and see manta rays, sea lions, turtles, whale sharks amongst many other animals! The Galapagos Islands is one of the most unique places on earth to visit on holiday let alone live and volunteer.

A Few Volunteer Positions Available at IOI Galapagos

Role Overview
Work with the Galápagos National Park as a member of the zoo keeping and research staff at the Tortoise Breeding Center.
Your responsibilities will include:
Feeding and caring for the tortoises, maintaining their enclosure, and measuring their shells for growth charts. You will also help to educate tourists and inform them of rules and regulations.

• Basic to intermediate level of Spanish
• A genuine passion for wildlife conservation
• An ability to openly communicate rules and regulations to tourists and to follow instructions
• Ability to work independently as well as in a team
• Physical ability to work outdoors with potentially high allergen, sun, and temperature exposure

Re-forestation Conservation volunteer 

Role Overview
Help protect our endemic flora in cooperation with the Galápagos National Park. You will work at the GNP’s endemic plant nursery on the fertile volcanic slopes, helping to grow and maintain ecologically important endemic species. Once the seedlings are ready, you will help plant them in sustainable garden and re-forestation projects.
Your responsibilities will include:
Maintaining and expanding the IOI model endemic eco-park.

• Basic to intermediate level of Spanish in order to communicate with fellow workers
• Genuine passion for the outdoors and conservation of nature
• Physical ability to work construction and gardening jobs outdoors with potentially high allergen, sun, and temperature exposure
• Ability to work independently as well as in a team
• Basic knowledge of tools and their safe use

Fees and Logistics

IOI Galapagos has a minimum age requirement of 18 and encourages volunteers of all ages, nationalities, backgrounds and cultures to participate in one of the many projects. The minimum required time is two weeks and the maximum three months. We want to encourage volunteers to stay as long as possible which is why we reduce our weekly rates significantly the longer the volunteer stays. Prices for volunteers start at a very affordable 150USD per week. We recommend a 12 week stay in order to gain a deeper understanding of the local culture of Puerto Villamil and also to maximize your experience on Isabela. Prices include accommodations (either at IOI’s facility or with a carefully selected host family), food, visas, local transportation, boat tickets, pick up at the dock, program management and 24/7 support in case of emergency. IOI Galapagos is offering a 15% discount rate until April 15th 2015 (use code APR15). Also, you can bring a friend and receive a 15% referral discount!

Volunteer Reviews from IOI Alumni

Nicole L’s (turtle center volunteer) experience:
“Three months later, and tortoise poop, semen, and pee no longer phase me.  Working with Galapagos Giant Tortoises for three months at the Breeding Center was definitely a once in a lifetime experience. From digging for eggs to feeding adult tortoises that can live up to 150 years, I was able to work intimately with these unique species.  I was able to see a side of these animals that most passing tourists miss.  Each Tortoise has a unique personality, and their curiosity is entertaining.  They love their “desayuno” and will do anything to get their food. Volunteering and engaging with the community made my experience in the Galapagos unique and extremely worthwhile.  Galapagos is definitely not just a place where unique animals live and where nature exists untouched. Through my civic engagement I was also able to learn a new culture and perspective that has definitely inspired a new outlook on life”.

Lindsay G.  (host family story):
In truth, my entire three months spent on Isabela Island has been a life changing experience. I must say, hands down, the greatest eye opening influence of my time here has come from my host family. Coming here, my greatest worry concerned living with a host family. What will they be like? Will they accept me? What if we don’t get along?
All my worries dissipated the first day upon arrival when my mother, father, and little sister greeted me with open arms and smiling faces. Right away, I realized that the residents of Puerto Villamil are the kindest, most endearing, well-connected, and sincere people I have ever met.
To be part of this community, to indulge myself in this culture, is one of the best things I have ever done in my life. It is easy to sometimes forget what is important in life. These people, who I will forever consider my second family, reminded me what is important—the simple things; Sundays with the family at the beach, cooking dinner together, sharing customs and connecting, birthday parties, and tight hugs from your little brother and sister after a day of school. These are the things that bring true happiness, and it shows, as my host family is some of the happiest people I know.
The host-family student relationship is not fake, its not like playing house—It’s real. I never thought I, a twenty one year old from New Jersey, could connect with a Galapagueno family. I barely spoke Spanish before this trip, knew nothing about the customs, and haven’t lived home for three years, yet none of that mattered. I connected with these people like I had never thought possible. We formed a bond I will never forget. I will bring back with me a new appreciation for life, for family, and for the little things.


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