We also gladly accept donations of medicines and lab tests to use in these programs! Ask for details.
"It is one of the most rewarding things you will ever do, and you will have the chance to use all your skills in a creative way. . . . You will also make friends with some of the most gracious people you will ever meet, and their gratitude will overwhelm you."
Experience life in the highlands of Ecuador while sharing your skills with villagers. Be part of a team that provides medical care for schoolchildren and adult community members. After a lunch provided by the community, learn more about local culture through a cooking class or a visit with a traditional healer. A delicious dinner and time to socialize with a great group of volunteers in a comfortable inn will cap off your day. Short, but so much deeper than a tour, this opportunity is unique in its ability to connect you with people. You will give to the community and receive much in return.
Cost: $1650 for one week or $2900 for two weeks does not include airfare but does include food, lodging, transportation within Ecuador, and all planned activities (based on double occupancy. For single occupancy add $150 per week.) We provide one airport pickup on the first Saturday evening, and two options for transportation back to the airport, on the last Saturday night or Sunday morning. If your plans require different pickups or drop-offs, you will need to cover those on your own).
Sample Itinerary for Health Care Volunteer Ventures
Day 1 (Saturday)
Fly to Quito. We will send a bus to pick up participants at the airport on Saturday evening. Most flights arrive very late in the evening.
(We can no longer provide pickups at other locations or times.)
Welcome and orientation, learn your role and prepare for the week's work. Participate in a language class and learn about local culture.
Care for patients from about 9 am to 2 pm in elementary schools or rural health centers; eat lunch with community members; then enjoy afternoon activities such as a hike to a sacred site, a visit with a traditional healer, or a cooking class.
Day 8 (Saturday)
Shop in the world-renowned Otavalo market, enjoy a fun outing together as a group, such as to Mojanda Lakes or the Lechero tree. New volunteers fly into Quito, where you will be met by a bus or van that will carry you two hours to Otavalo. Departing volunteers may fly out on late night flights or spend one more night at the hotel.
Orientation, training, and language class for newly-arrived volunteers.
Departing volunteers head to the airport early in the morning.
Care for patients from about 9 am to 2 pm in elementary schools or community centers; eat lunch with community members; then enjoy afternoon activities such as hikes to beautiful sites or cooking class with local friends.
Day 15 (Saturday)
Shop in the world-renowned Otavalo market, enjoy an outing together as a group. Final dinner to celebrate. You may fly out on late night flights or spend one more night at the hotel.
Return to the airport for morning flights.
We are proud members of Pack for a Purpose, an initiative that allows travelers like you to make a lasting impact in the community at your travel destination. If you save just a few lbs. of space in your suitcase and take supplies for the projects we support in need, you’ll make a priceless impact in the lives of our local children and families. Please click here to see what supplies are needed for our project/projects.
Health Care Volunteer Ventures Frequently Asked Questions
Do volunteers need to have medical backgrounds (e.g., nurse, physician) or skills? What opportunities are there for people without medical training?
Volunteers do not need to have medical backgrounds. We usually have several health care providers (MDs, PAs) and a number of non-medical volunteers. Those without medical training are also important to making the process work. Some check patients in and ask basic questions, others take vitals, others assist the providers (as runners, holding things, consulting with other team members, etc), and still others organize our "pharmacy," counting out pills for prescriptions and others perform vision screening and help patients try on reading glasses. And people with other particular skills can sometimes find ways to use those too--for instance, one time a self-described "tinkerer" built a walker for a patient.
What type of health care services are provided by the volunteers?
We provide basic primary care services--general medicine consultations, simple lab tests (urinalysis, strep, h. pylori, pregnancy, blood glucose), ultrasound imaging, dentistry, and medications. Our dental services include fillings, extractions, and prophylactic measures such as sealants and fluoride. Though we do not have the capacity to do full optometric exams, we can do vision screening and refer those who need distance glasses or ophthalmological attention to another foundation, while providing reading glasses to those who need them. If patients need more care, such as consultations with specialists, additional tests, or surgery, our providers fill out referral forms. Tandana's Patient Follow Up Coordinator works with these patients after the volunteer vacation is over to help them get to the hospital, lab, or specialists they need and access further care.
Who seeks care for the services that are provided? What alternatives exist for people in the community/area?
Community members of all ages, both indigenous and mestizo, come to their community center or local school to take advantage of our services. Their alternatives are either to go to Otavalo to a private doctor, which can be quite costly, or to the local rural health center, where supplies and appointments are limited. For many patients it is a long way to get to the center, waiting times are typically very long, and supplies and medications are extremely limited. We collaborate with staff from these health centers, traveling together to the communities and helping them fulfill their mission of providing care to the population of their area.
Typically how large is the group of volunteers?
The groups are usually 10-15 volunteers with 4-6 Tandana staff.
Are volunteers required to speak Spanish? If not, how are interactions facilitated?
We have many volunteers who don’t speak Spanish. We offer basic (and fun) Spanish and Kichwa lessons during the trip to help volunteers learn at least enough to perform their roles, give basic instructions, and greet people. Each provider works with an interpreter. For interaction outside of work time, Tandana staff translate for the group.
Do I need vaccinations to go on this trip?
The CDC recommends vaccinations against Hepatitis A, typhoid, tetanus-diphtheria and measles. Yellow fever is recommended for other parts of Ecuador but is not necessary in the mountains where we work. Vaccinations are up to your own discretion.
I've heard about the Zika virus. Should I be concerned for my health?
The Zika virus is carried by mosquitoes that generally live below 1200 meters, but Tandana works at much higher elevations--typically above 2000 meters. So the chances of encountering a Zika-carrying mosquito while with Tandana is quite low. Moreover, the main concern for Zika is the damage it can do to fetuses if the mother contracts the virus; for others, the clinical symptoms are mild. Nevertheless, if you plan to travel in lower elevations before or after your time with us, you might want to take precautions with an insect repellent approved by the EPA.
What are the accommodations?
Our health care volunteer venture participants are provided lodging at a wonderful facility right in Otavalo, Ecuador: Casa Latitud. Rooms all have private baths, comfortable beds, and have outlets using the same electricity as the U.S. Wi-fi is available in the common area. Breakfast each day is a treat that offers fresh local fruits and juices, excellent coffee and a selection of hot breakfast items to start your day off right. The garden and patio area are an oasis with a view of 2 inactive volcanos. And the location is perfect for market shopping just 4 blocks away.
Will my electronic devices work in Ecuador?
Yes, Ecuador uses the same electrical currents and plugs as the United States does, so you don't need a special adapter.
What should I pack to take on this trip?
We'll send you a "welcome" packet a month or so before your departure, which includes a suggested packing list.
What is the daily schedule like?
Each day we depart the hotel at 8 am and travel (from 15 minutes to an hour and a half) to a different community to work from about 9 or 10 until about 2 or 3. After lunch, we visit community members, meet students, a shaman, a master weaver, or indigenous leaders, or hike to sacred sites such as the Peguche waterfall and the Lechero tree. In the evening, we sample one of the many delicious dining options in Otavalo, and have a short debrief of the day's work.
Who leads the groups of volunteers? Who do I turn to when I need help?
All of Tandana's volunteer programs are led by a team of Program Coordinators who have first-hand knowledge of the region, speak both Spanish and English, have expertise in experiential education and group leadership, hold WFA (Wilderness First Aid) or other certifications that have prepared them to handle emergencies, and are caring and capable individuals. Our permanent local staff is always on hand to help with translation, activities, logistics, and anything else to make sure the volunteers' experience is the best it can possibly be. See here for bios of some Program Coordinators.
How does the HCVV fit into Tandana's overall health care program?
What percent of the trip fee goes to the community and for costs related to providing health care services?
The entire cost of the trip goes toward making the health care services and the volunteers' experience possible (food, lodging, transportation, Tandana staff, local professionals, medications, supplies, communication, activities, office expenses). If there is additional money after these costs are covered, it is used for patient follow-up services.
What if I can't find the answer to my question on this FAQ page?
Please email your question to us at email@example.com, and we'll answer it as quickly as we can.
En Équateur, nous travaillons principalement dans les communautés de la paroisse de Quichinche, dans le canton de Otavalo, dans la Sierra équatorienne. Juste à l'extérieur du centre du marché de Otavalo, cette zone est à seulement 2 heures en bus de Quito, mais offre une tranquillité rurale et la connexion à la terre très différente de la vie dans la capitale.
Les volcans du père et de la mère, Imbabura et Cotacachi, se gardent sur les vallées et les collines où les Otaveleño indigènes et les familles métisses cultivent leur subsistance. Diversifiés dans leurs coutumes, les résidants sont unis par leur besoin de travailler ensemble pour améliorer leurs communautés. Ils cultivent le maïs, les pommes de terre, les haricots et d'autres cultures, tissent des textiles et des paniers, et commutent à Otavalo pour l'enseignement secondaire ou les travaux du secteur formel. Les Otavaleño sont l'un des groupes autochtones équatoriens qui ont le plus de succès à préserver leur identité culturelle et leurs traditions. Parlant à la fois Kichwa et espagnol, ils ont appris à négocier les structures de pouvoir de leur nation tout en conservant la fierté de leur patrimoine autochtone. Les gens de Quichinche travaillent dur et aiment aussi célébrer. En général, ils sont très accueillants pour les visiteurs et aiment partager la nourriture, plaisanter autour, et discuter de leur culture avec les invités. Le paysage qui entoure leur maison, en attendant, offre des lacs hauts, des chutes d'eau, et des pics volcaniques pour inspirer un sens de la grandeur de la nature. L'élévation de 274 mètres de la région et la proximité de l'Équateur se conjuguent pour lui donner des températures toujours confortables (de 10 à 26 C) tout au long de l'année.
Faites défiler la carte de l'histoire ci-dessous pour connaître les communautés avec lesquelles nous collaborons et voir leurs emplacements sur une carte.
Through our health care program in Ecuador, The Tandana Foundation aims to improve rural community members’ access to basic health care and support local rural health professionals in caring for their population. Tandana’s health care work has two stages: community visits by groups that include North American health care providers and extensive follow up after these visits. We also support the local health centers with particular needs.
Our community visits are made possible through our Health Care Volunteer Venture program twice a year and by custom programs we coordinate for hospitals or medical schools when possible. Volunteers including doctors, P.A.s, dentists, nurses, physical therapists, and willing assistants sign up for these programs and spend one or two weeks in Ecuador. Together with Tandana staff and local professionals including staff from the local health centers and interpreters, these groups visit various communities in the canton of Otavalo. We coordinate with the Ecuadorian Consulates in the United States, the Ministry of Public Health, the Quinchinche and Gualsaqui Subcentros, the Mojandita Health Center, and the Union of Indigenous Communities of Quichinche. We have provided over 8,000 patient visits since we began the program in 2007.
Our Health Care Volunteer Venture groups work mostly in communities pertaining to the Quichinche and Gualsaqui Subcentros (rural health centers). We collaborate with Subcentro staff to visit the more distant communities that are served by their center. The Subcentro staff are mandated to visit these communities regularly, but are given no funding to do so and have very limited supplies of medications. With Tandana’s help, they are able to fulfill their mission of providing care in these distant communities, from which access to the Subcentro is difficult.
When patients arrive at the school, community center, or health center where we are working, Tandana staff and volunteers take their names, ask basic questions, and take vitals, preparing them to see the health care providers. Working with interpreters, the providers examine the patients, make diagnoses, and prescribe medications from our portable pharmacy. We ask a contribution of 50 cents per family for the medications in order to encourage patients to take responsibility for their health and to promote valuation of the medicines. Following our providers' recommendations, a nurse or other volunteer performs basic laboratory tests, such as those for H. pylori, urinalysis, pregnancy, and streptococcus, on the spot and does ear cleanings as necessary. We are also able to do ultrasounds during our visits. Our providers fill out referral forms for any patients they feel need additional care, tests, or specialists.
During our community visits, we can also address dental, vision, pediatric, and preventative care needs. Volunteer North American and local dentists use our portable dental equipment to fill cavities, extract teeth, and do preventative treatments such as sealants and fluoride. For vision complaints, we conduct vision screening, provide reading glasses to those who need them, and refer those who require more specialized diagnosis and treatment to Fundacion Vista Para Todos. At schools, we weigh and measure the children, a nurse or doctor listens to their hearts and lungs, and we provide parasite medication if the children have not received it within 6 months of our visit. To round out our community visits, we also give educational talks on such topics as nutrition and family planning when time and human resources permit.
For all of these services, we keep records so that as patients return for subsequent community visits, we have their history available. Thanks to our new Electronic Medical Record system, we no longer have to haul around boxes of paper files, which lightens our load both literally and figuratively.
The Tandana Foundation is committed to providing culturally- and individually- respectful care. Volunteers receive an orientation including an introduction to the local culture and a discussion of the cross-cultural aspects of our work. Our team always includes at least one fluent Kichwa speaker, and we take the time to listen to patients fully even while trying to be efficient so that we can see more patients. We promote a spirit of collaboration with local health care options, including both professionals in Western medicine and traditional healers such as shamans, yachaks, and sabios. We see our work as complementary rather than contradictory to that of traditional healers, and we make efforts to meet with, discuss with, and learn from local individuals with these specialties.
Patient Follow Up
The second phase of our health care work begins after the visits to the communities have taken place. Tandana's Patient Follow Up Coordinator and interns review the referral forms and make a plan for where each of the patients needs to go. Staff communicate with the patients and advocate for them in the public health system. It is our goal that, through this process, patients learn how to use the system on their own.
Through many appointments, first at the rural health center, then at the hospital, and sometimes at specialized hospitals in the capital city of Quito or with other organizations such as Vista Para Todos or the Lions Club, patients access the care they need. Whether they need lab tests, specialists, surgeries, or eyeglasses, our Patient Follow Up Coordinator works tirelessly to help them access the resources that are available. We work primarily with the Ministry of Health, and also with other foundations and private options when the public system does not offer what a patient needs.
Unfortunately, access to health services is very difficult for people living in rural communities for the following reasons:
Difficulties understanding the procedures to be followed
Communication gaps among the different levels of care
Difficulty scheduling appointments and long wait times
Cultural differences, language barriers, and racism
Our staff work with patients to navigate and overcome these challenges so that they can benefit from the services to which they are entitled as citizens of Ecuador and improve their health. Our goal is to ensure that once patients are on track and learn how to navigate the health system, from that point forward they are able to take advantage of its resources on their own.
Nayeli Anrango, a member of the Panecillo community, received medical care through Tandana’s mobile clinics in October 2018 after experiencing several epileptic episodes that caused seizures, falls, and loss of consciousness. According to the doctor that saw her, this was a case of child epilepsy and she needed to see a neurologist. English Français Tandana -; Continue reading "Tandana changes Nayeli’s life"
Bringing global perspectives and multiple forms of knowledge to higher education
Thanks to sponsorship by the O’Donnell Visiting Educator Program and the Center for Global Studies at Whitman College, Associate Professor of Biology Leena Knight and Founding Director of The Tandana Foundation, Anna Taft (Whitman ‘02), organized a course titled Health in Ecuador and Mali: Pandemic, Race, Culture that took place remotely this fall for Whitman -; Continue reading "Bringing global perspectives and multiple forms of knowledge to higher education"
High hopes: one man’s determination to overcome the obstacles before him
You stand behind Jaime Muenala’s cement farm house in the majestic foothills of volcanic Mt. Imbabura in northern Ecuador, gazing in awe down the clifflike trail to the green terrace below, and then you find yourself asking the obvious: “Do you go up and down THAT to get to your fields?” Jaime smiles slightly and ++; Continue reading "High hopes: one man’s determination to overcome the obstacles before him"
Tandana helps provide emergency COVID-19 support in Ningari
This summer, several communities that The Tandana Foundation partners with in Segue-Iré, Mali approached the organization for emergency support related to mitigating the spread of COVID-19, after numerous deaths and several positive cases were confirmed. The following is a report written about how Tandana and the communities worked together to successfully respond to the situation. ++; Continue reading "Tandana helps provide emergency COVID-19 support in Ningari"
A united front: Tandana’s health care support through COVID-19 in Ecuador
Like in the rest of the world, the threat of COVID-19 has changed the lives of many people in the communities of the Quichinche Parish in Otavalo, Ecuador. From the close communication carried by The Tandana Foundation, directed by Virginia Sánchez (Patient Followup Coordinator), with the staff of the Quichinche and Gualsaqui health centers, it (tm); Continue reading "A united front: Tandana’s health care support through COVID-19 in Ecuador"
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, The Tandana Foundation has been supporting our community partners in Mali through conducting education about prevention measures, assembling and distributing hand-washing stations, and providing supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) to a hospital and local health centers. Members of the Tandana team have also recorded a radio broadcast with public ,; Continue reading "The impact of Tandana’s COVID-19 response in Mali"
When you live in the high Andes of Ecuador at an altitude of 9,000 feet, where your eyes are subjected to intense solar rays, cold winds blowing off the peaks, and the thick volcanic dust that that for thousands of years has grown the staple foods of corn and potatoes, a film can begin to ,,; Continue reading "Medical care from the heart that never gives up"