Volunteer arrangements

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Volunteers are expected to arrange and finance their own airfares and transfer costs to Arutam Forest Reserve as well as to take out travel insurance for medical and personal effects.

There are no application fees, but volunteers pay a program fee according to the number of weeks they will stay. The program fee includes accommodation, three meals a day, the coordination, organization and total support during the volunteer program.

We can also help you organize your trip to Ecuador if you contact us well in advance. We can help with transfers from the airport, book hotel in Quito, Spanish classes in Quito and transport to Puyo and the project. Please contact us for more information.

Volunteers will be expected to work from Monday to Friday whilst staying at Arutam Forest Reserve - time off when away from Arútam is up to the individuals. The cleaning and basic maintaining of the accommodation and volunteers areas are also up to you. A time will be set aside for this each day to cover all the functions.

Volunteers live in the Shuar community Arútam, which also is the headquarters of FUNDECOIPA. Volunteers are accommodated in a volunteer house close to the community center. The volunteer houses has 8 X 2 bed dorms, bathroom, kitchen facilities, a fireplace, laundry facilities and open space for with hammocks downstairs.

Hammocks volunteer house

Volunteers will be provided with three meals per day and free drinking water. Furthermore biscuits, sweets, beers and soft drinks can be purchased in a small shop in the community.

Meals consist of a traditional Shuar diet supplemented with rice, pasta and vegetables. The main stables are manioc, plantain, sweet yam, rice, pasta, vegetables, chili and meat. Another stable part of the diet is the chicha. Vegetarians can be accommodated.

The normal eating hours are:

Breakfast:    7.30 am - 8.00 am
Lunch:          1.00 pm - 1.30 pm
Dinner:         7.00 pm – 7.30 pm

Language, skills and age requirements
There are no specific skills required to participate in the program. Those who have a passion to assist others, flexible and positive attitude as well as capability to live under basic conditions can join the project.

There are no Spanish level requirements for volunteering. We receive volunteers without any previous Spanish skills to volunteers with advanced Spanish skills and native Spanish speakers. Basic Spanish skills and active effort to learn will, however, improve your experience as the working language is Spanish and villagers speak little English. That way the project is also a great way of enhancing your Spanish skills.

Villagers are bilingual with Shuar as their first language and Spanish as the second – some understand some English. All villagers are both fluent in Shuar and Spanish. The working language is Spanish, but villagers will often talk Shuar among each other. Villagers are very keen on teaching Shuar to any volunteers interested.

There are no age restrictions but young and elder volunteers should note that they will be living in tropical conditions with basic facilities. Volunteers under 15 years have to be accompanied by their parents.

What equipment should volunteers bring?

  • Essential items

  • Sleeping bag/ blanket

  • Raincoat or poncho

  • Rubber boots (can be purchased in Quito)

  • Flashlight with spare batteries

  • Insect repellent

  • Water bottle

  • Basic first aid kit

  • Toilet paper

  • Towel

  • (biodegradable soaps/shampoo)

Other practical items

  • Mosquito net

  • Sunscreen

  • Binoculars

  • Camera

  • Swim suit

  • Pocket knife

  • Sun glasses

  • Hat

  • Working gloves

  • Washing powder (for clothes)

  • Long trousers (light weight and quick drying)

  • Dry-bag or plastic sealable bags (for protecting camera)

  • A good sense of humor, compassion for people, lots of energy and a flexible attitude.

Diseases and health
Check with your local doctor at least 3 months before departure on what vaccinations are recommended. The risk of malaria and other contagious diseases in Arutam is quite low. There have been no documented cases of malaria in the community. However, there have been a few cases of malaria in the region and malaria tablets are recommended.

In general most travelers will experience stomach problems to some degree when travelling in a foreign country. Although conditions are simple in Arútam the hygiene is good and there are few cases of diarrhea in the community. However, some volunteers get sick (diarrhea) when they leave the community on personal weekend trips to nearby Baños. So try always to drink bottled water and avoid exotic street food.

The nearest town with normal commodities, internet, international calls, hotels, restaurants and hospital etc is Puyo which is located 48 km from Arutam. The trip to Puyo takes less than two hours by bus, which leaves several times a day. The popular town of Baños is only 3 hours drive away from Arutam and some volunteers go there at the weekends.

See more about recommended vaccinations on MD Travel Health here

Dangerous animals
The surrounding rainforest in Arutam contain some of the world’s highest level of species richness. Most of flora and fauna is harmless. Although both pumas and jaguars have been recorded close to the village, none of these big cats are known to be man-eaters.

Some insects (especially ants) can be an annoyance but are rarely dangerous. The best rule is never to touch insects (or other animals) unless villagers tell you that it is safe. Although tarantulas are big and scary looking they aren’t harmful if left alone. A good rule is always to check your boots before putting them on.

If you are staying a couple of weeks in Arútam you are likely to encounter snakes. Although only a few are dangerous, we always recommend that volunteers take the general precautions of watching where you step and put your hands. Always wear rubber boots when walking in the forest and use a flashlight when walking at night. No volunteer have ever been bitten by snakes.


Personal safety
Concerning the physical safety (from robbery, assault, kidnapping etc.) the community and region is one of the safest places in Ecuador and Latin America in general. Arútam is a small community where everybody knows and look out for each other - especially the for the volunteers.

It’s a good idea to bring basic first aid equipment. Even if you do not use it, you might be able to help others who are less equipped.

If you are on specific tablets or permanent treatments it is advisable to bring sufficient supplies for the duration of your stay as you may not be able to encounter specialized medicines in Puyo. Access to shops, chemist, banks, post office or medic is possible in Puyo. Here you can also buy the most common consumption goods, so there’s no need to panic if you have forgot some items.

When you have paid the volunteer fee you will be provided all meals and water in the community. However there is a small shop, where you can buy coca-colas, candy and beers etc. Therefore you might want to bring some additional cash (also to the trips). In general when travelling is best to bring small bills 5-20 USD bills as few will be able to provide change for larger bills.

You will be able to find several reliable ATM machines in Puyo for the most normal credit cards. Travelers’ checks can also be used in one Puyo (only one shop), but are more difficult than credit cards.

Project availability and commitment
There are no set arrival / departure dates for the project. When you apply and pay you just need to inform us about your proposed participation dates. The project is available year round. Although we accept volunteers for short periods of time (2 week minimum) we encourage volunteers to make a commitment for 4 weeks in order to gain more thorough insight knowledge about the project and the Shuar. 

At some locations in the community you can get a signal for (GSM) cell phones and some villagers do have cell phones in the community, but receiving calls is unreliable. Ten kilometers or 30 minutes by bus towards Puyo (in the community Simón Bolívar) you can find a public phone where you (normally) will be able to make international calls. However, the most reliable communication services are found in Puyo, approximately 1h30min drive from the project. Here you can find various internet cafés, Skype and phones. Internet calls are still quite rare in Puyo and rates are therefore higher than in Quito.

The Arútam community is located at 920 meters above sea level; however, the terrain in the reserve varies from 570 m to 1045 meters above sea level. The surrounding forest is tropical evergreen moist forest. The composition of the forest and vegetation is among the most diverse in the world. Mean annual temperature is 20° C, with absolute maximum and minimum temperatures recorded were 31° C and 18° C, respectively. Even though day temperatures are high, some rainy nights can feel a little chilly and a sleeping bag is required.