“Are you going on your own?” “You are brave!” I’m so envious!” Some of the comments before I set off on my big adventure – and I did feel apprehensive but very sure that this was something I really should do. I am on older volunteer, who was looking for ways to use skills learnt over many years in a variety of jobs – the last of which was 12 years as a primary school teacher. I’m at the stage in life where I know that if I want to do these things, I have to do them soon – or not at all!
I chose the Galapagos because I love wildlife, have always been intrigued by the islands and could combine teaching and conservation. It is also an extremely safe environment which I wanted for my first foray into volunteering. William Puga, Projects Abroad’s organiser in San Cristobal, does a great job and makes all volunteers extremely welcome. He is always ready to help you get the best out of your time there, organising trips and fun activities, like Zumba and kayaking, for the volunteers. Thank you so much, William.
Before going, I worked hard to learn as much Spanish as I could and did the TEFL course to prepare me for teaching English – as you can see, I like to be prepared! I took lots of teaching materials with me which I hoped would be useful and was able to top up supplies of things like blutac and whiteboard markers. I taught the Projects Abroad after school groups which were a joy. There were three groups, arranged by age, the oldest children about 12 and the youngest five years old. We planned in the morning, and they had hour long lessons in the afternoons, four days a week so could progress well. As there were four teaching volunteers at that time, we were able to teach as pairs with small classes – ideal! My teaching buddy, Ellie, from the States, was fantastic and we were particularly pleased with our series of lessons based on the book ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’. This was with the middle age group – nearly all boys in football kits – who ended up being able to understand and join in the whole book – and they loved it!
I originally had wanted to teach in a local school and was initially a little disappointed that this was not going to happen. However, the after-school groups were great to teach and, in the two weeks, I was able to get to know all the children well and see them progress. I had brought letters from the Year 6 children from my old school to the children I was teaching. These formed the basis for the older after-school group to do presentations about themselves and then write back – which they enjoyed. I also taught in the local primary school for a couple of lessons to introduce and help them read the letters and write replies. It was great to be able to bring all these letters back to my old school and I hope it will be the beginning of a link between the schools.
San Cristobal is a small island with a small population. I loved it that, after a couple of weeks, I was recognising children in the street and finding that, one day, my taxi driver was the father of one of my pupils!
My week’s conservation was equally memorable. I won’t forget the very early mornings, up at 4.50am and on the beaches by 5.20am, monitoring sealions as the sun rose. We learnt quickly, with our very knowledgeable leader, Jose-Luis, about how to spot the different sealions – females, juveniles, sub and alpha males, puppies (of which there were many!). Back to our accommodation for breakfast and then off on whatever the conservation job was for the day – cutting food for and feeding the giant tortoises, cleaning their ponds, beach clean ups, sea-lion behaviour monitoring, or monitoring birds and iguanas give you a flavour. The amazing thing about all the wildlife there is that it seems so tolerant of humans. Sealions, birds, iguanas don’t move when you go towards them – you have to stay two metres away, of course, as this is the very strict national park rule.
What I hadn’t expected was how amazing my free time would be. Lots of time to sit in the sun, swim, snorkel, explore and just wander, watch the wildlife and enjoy the quiet of the island. I also managed some trips – to Espanola (an uninhabited island home to the Winged Albatross), a 360 Trip round San Cristobal (the highlight was swimming with white tipped reef sharks and enormous green turtles) and a weekend in Santa Cruz (more enormous tortoises, lava tunnels, Turtle Bay and Lonesome George).
My accommodation was basic but absolutely fine once you mastered how exactly to position the controls for a hot shower! Abi, Isa and their 18 month old daughter, Nicole, were a delight and worked really hard to make sure our stay was good. Abi cooked excellent meals and both Abi and Isa helped us struggle through to talk to them in Spanish. Thank you so much to you both!
I am keen to go back to San Cristobal – it was such a special time in such a special place. I am now trying to fundraise to help William set up a small library in the rural school I taught in – they have few reading materials. I would love to be able to return in a year or two to see the library in action.
I’m also thinking about what I might do for my next volunteering adventure ……
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