This past summer Benjamin Zwang, an 11th grader at Clarkstown Senior High School South, spent a month of his vacation in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands with VISIONS Service Adventures, an international service learning program.
Zwang of New City was one of 21 high school students who traveled to Patate, a small Andean town in Ecuador, to do community service. The teen volunteers worked with local organizations on construction, environmental, and social service projects. They completed the carpentry construction of a large kiosk to be used by resident artisans to sell wares to tourists, built a 15’ x 13’ chicken coop for a nursing home that now has an additional source of income and food, and also painted classrooms at two different schools.
Students volunteered with young children by leading a day camp, and during their last few days of the program spent in the Galapagos, they helped remove invasive plant species that threaten native habitat.
The trip wasn’t all work for Zwang and his peers. They learned about Ecuadorian culture firsthand through shared work projects and social visits with local hosts. The group learned local trades through internships with artisans, visited the popular hot springs town of Banos, toured some of Quito’s historic sites, hiked in the Andes, went snorkeling in the Galapagos, and played sports with local youth.
“Service in the cross-cultural context allows teens the opportunity to make a difference and, just as important, know the people whose lives they are impacting in personal, mutually respectful ways,” says Katherine Dayton, VISIONS Executive Director. “We give students tangible ways to be challenged through ambitious service work, thereby developing resilience and self-confidence, and realizing their potential in this world.”
VISIONS Service Adventures operates high school and middle school volunteer travel programs in Central and South America, the Caribbean West Indies, United States, Cambodia and Ghana. “Each of our program locations is unique,” said Dayton, “but all provide primary ingredients of community service, cultural immersion, adventure and opportunities to explore places off the tourist track.”