Ecuador & Galapagos
High School Service Program
Construction and Environmental Projects
with Spanish Immersion
Are you all set with your VISIONS program and ready for the next steps? Then you're in the right place! The information below is everything you'll need to get prepared. Of course, you'll also be in touch with the VISIONS office, and feel free to contact us with any questions.
Program Expectations & Zero Tolerance Rules
Zero Tolerance Rules
VISIONS is a Zero Tolerance program regarding (1) consumption, possession, or attempted possession of alcohol or drugs/illegal substances; (2) sexual activity. Consuming, possessing, or attempting to possess alcohol or drugs/illegal substances will result in immediate dismissal from the program. Participants may not abuse over-the-counter drugs or use medications not prescribed to them. Sexual contact—meaning conduct deemed unacceptable in public places—also will result in dismissal. Remember that VISIONS focuses on an inclusive group dynamic, making cliques and romances out of sync with the goal of a powerful and life-changing experience. Please review the Enrollment Contract for the complete Terms of Participation.
The “Airplane Rules” (zero tolerance rules) are in place for everyone’s safety, health and welfare, common sense, group dynamic, and with local laws in mind. It is important to remember that local laws may be different than what you are used to, and in some locations, repercussions and penalties are severe and may have a long-lasting impact on your future. If a participant is sent home early from a program, the participant's parent/guardian will be responsible for booking the next available flight directly with the airline. VISIONS travel agent is not always available for these types of flight changes, and purchasing a new ticket is sometimes necessary.
Sending a participant home is difficult for everyone, but it will happen if an Airplane Rule is broken. Being sent home, even in final days of a program, results in forfeiture of the Certificate of Service and recognition of service hours. Again, the safety, health, and wellbeing of participants is at the core of our policies.
Buddy System and Boundaries
If you want to leave your homebase area during the occasional free time - for example, to stop at a store or to go for a run - you need to find someone in your group who is willing to go with you, and you must remain inside the pre-determined boundaries. You and your buddy check out with a leader, establishing where you will be and how long you will be gone. When you return, you check in with the same leader.
The boundaries are explained by leaders on the first day of the program, and usually encompass our immediate neighborhood and the nearby places we know well. Our leaders need to know where everyone is at all times for your safety and for maintaining the general flow of the program. Participants will be with leaders at all times during non-daylight hours, unless there is a special case such as a dinner with a local family.
Getting Enough Sleep
VISIONS programs are demanding. We start early, work hard, and explore with passion. Free time can be used to catch a short nap, but to keep everyone healthy and energized throughout the program, we establish a set “lights out" time. Leaders consider the daily routines of our host communities and our personal program needs when setting those times. There are occasional exceptions including staying up for a social event, or sleeping in on a morning when leaders determine some extra rest will be beneficial for the group. Participants are welcome to use a headlamp to read after lights out, but we suspect that you will welcome sleep.
Passport / ID / Visa
Visas are NOT required for U.S. citizens. However, your passport must be valid for at least six months from the entry date to Ecuador. This is a country requirement. The VISIONS office needs to receive a copy of your valid passport as soon as possible, as it is required for booking our flights to the Galapagos. It must be a clear copy, and black & white is preferred instead of color. Mail, fax, or email the copy to our office.
If you need a new passport, don’t delay! Processing for youth can take longer than adults, and you should pay for expedited processing if the trip date is less than two months away. U.S. citizens can hire a processing company (www.passportvisaexpress as an example), or do it yourself through the State Department (link here).
- In addition to taking your passport to the program, please take a photocopy of the 2-page spread that includes your picture. Our leaders collect passports and photocopies for safekeeping during the program.
- We also recommend that you leave a photocopy or digital image of your passport at home.
- Participants who are not U.S. citizens must consult with the appropriate embassy or consulate regarding entry requirements. Please contact the VISIONS office if you need a letter confirming program participation.
Since VISIONS cannot provide medical advice regarding international travel or vaccinations, we recommend consulting with your family physician or a travel doctor, and keeping in mind that some vaccines require a series of shots that take place over several weeks. While there are no required vaccines for travel to the Ecuador, many travelers to developing countries choose to receive common travel vaccines including those for typhoid fever and / or hepatitis A.
We also suggest that you review the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website, and specifically the Ecuador page. Please note that the program is based in Patate, near the city of Ambato in the Tungurahua Province. There are several clinics in Patate and a hospital in Ambato. Serious medical situations also may be treated at the major hospital in Quito. In the Galapagos, we are based on the island of San Cristobal, where there is a small hospital. There are also full-fledged hospitals in Quito, and participants carry the medical evacuation policy in case of any emergency that warrants further evacuation.
To learn more about health and safety on VISIONS programs, please refer to this FAQ link.
Note regarding mosquito-borne diseases: The CDC provides guidelines for the most effective types of insect repellent; see this page for their recommendations. While VISIONS cannot guarantee that a participant won’t contract a mosquito-borne illness, we do have program practices that help mitigate exposure. Examples include minimizing standing water, guiding kids to properly apply repellent, having fans in rooms, using mosquito nets on beds, etc.
When we refer to the community of participants and leaders in VISIONS, we mean it as best defined by M. Scott Peck in “The Different Drum”:
[A] group of individuals who have learned how to communicate honestly with each other, whose relationships go deeper than their masks of composure, and who have developed some significant commitment to . . . delight in each other, make others' conditions (their) own.
On a VISIONS program, we place a premium on building a sense of community and getting to know everyone in the group. Sometimes, community can mean “neighborhood” in the sense of sharing resources like power tools and physical labor, as we do in the communities where we work. On a deeper level, it can mean creating a kind of family out of strangers and it is this sense of community that we strive to create among our groups and leaders.
Community means embracing your responsibilities within the group rather than hiding in anonymity, respecting others, communicating clearly, and living together cooperatively. To encourage growth in each of those areas, your leaders will facilitate evening meetings that include every participant on the program. While you may hear the meeting referred to as “circle,” local vernacular has been adapted on some program sites to refer to the time that we set aside to gather as a group: “harambe” in the British Virgin Islands, “comunidad” in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, “bilan” in Guadeloupe, “allyu” in Peru and Ecuador, and “kanatapi” in Montana.
Your group will meet three or four nights a week for about an hour to speak and listen to each other. We almost always start by reflecting on the day, including the overall volunteer and cultural experiences. Sometimes an incident or event raises questions that deserve everyone’s perspective and input. When it’s called for, we also use the time to hash out issues and iron out differences. This is a time to communicate openly and to listen to others’ perspectives. It can also be an occasion for us to see how others perceive us, which is a valuable gift.
Through this forum, we stand to gain insight as well as more confident and effective communication skills, which are as useful as the physical skills we learn and apply during the day. Our focus is the here and now, and the integrity of the community, of both leaders and participants, living and learning together.
It is your time, our time, to build a foundation of trust and cohesiveness in the process of becoming a strong community.
There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace — and ultimately no life — without community.
- Scott Peck
Code of Ethics
- Travel with a spirit of humility and a genuine desire to meet and talk with local people.
- Be aware of the feelings of others. Act respectfully and avoid offensive behavior, including when taking photographs.
- Cultivate the habit of actively listening and observing rather than merely hearing and seeing. Avoid the temptation to “know all the answers.”
- Realize that others may have concepts of time and attitudes that are different—not inferior—to those you inherited from your own culture.
- Instead of looking only for the exotic, discover the richness of another culture and way of life. Learn local customs and respect them.
- Spend time each day reflecting on your experiences in order to deepen your understanding. Is your enrichment beneficial for all involved?
- Be aware of why you are traveling in the first place. If you truly want a “home away from home,” why travel?
Compiled by The North American Center for Responsible Tourism, San Anselmo, CA
Packing Guidelines / Tech Policy
When in Rome, Do As the Romans Do
VISIONS places a high value on respect of the community members who welcome us year after year. We are not tourists. We are temporary community members, and as such must strive to honor the standards of our host community. We all need to be conscious of adapting rather than imposing our usual day-to-day conduct or dress on the places we visit, as tourists tend to do. The community where we live and work will want to welcome you as a friend, so we must do our best not to alienate local contacts.
In addition to the cultural considerations, conservative dress protects you from the sun, heat, mosquito bites and minor cuts. Long-sleeved gauzy fabric is breathable and cool, and the body adjusts to protective clothing. You’ll be more comfortable if less of your skin is exposed.
- Articles of clothing NOT permitted on VISIONS programs:
- Short-shorts (shorter than mid-thigh) or short skirts
- Crop tops or shirts that reveal midriff
- Spaghetti strap shirts or dresses
- Low cut shirts
- Clothing that reveals undergarments
- Spandex or yoga pants (wearing these under other clothing such as shorts is permitted)
Note: If you bring clothing items that don't follow the dress code described above, you won't be able to wear those items during the program. If you don't have sufficient appropriate clothing, you may need to purchase clothes on site. Thank you for your understanding.
- VISIONS is a cell phone / tech-free program, but [non-phone] cameras are allowed and encouraged. If you choose not to bring one, leaders will be taking photos throughout the program and we will share the photos with everyone at the end of the program.
- Cell phones, music devices, e-readers and any other gadgets will be collected on the first day and will be returned on the final day. We make every effort to safely secure electronic devices, but VISIONS is not responsible for lost or stolen items.
Why the tech policy?
- First: The absence of these devices encourages us to take in the full texture of the community—the sights, smells, sounds and rhythms of daily life. Participants consistently comment after their VISIONS program that they were able to form deeper friendships, and they felt more connected to the community when the distractions of technology were removed.
- Second: Because we are a group of non-locals, we will naturally stick out. Bringing gadgets only makes us targets for petty theft, and it accentuates the differences between our hosts and ourselves.
Tuition covers almost everything during the program, but some participants like to bring extra money (around $30-50 per week) for personal items such as souvenirs, snacks, and baggage fees. VISIONS leaders encourage participants to turn in cash and cards at the beginning of the program and then check the money/cards out as needed. Please refer to your airline’s website for baggage fees (if applicable).
- ATM Card: VISIONS recommends bringing an ATM card. They are more secure than cash and ATMs provide local currency. Additionally, they can be held in a parent's name because ATMs do not require identification.
- Credit Cards: We recommend bringing a credit card for things like baggage fees and other expenses where cards are accepted. Since many small shops will not accept credit cards, however, you will still need a means for cash.
- Cash: Please do not bring more than $150 cash—VISIONS can lock up cash in a secure area, but we don't want to accept more than $150 per person. You can rely on the ATM card for additional money needs.
- Prepaid Debit Cards: These cards often do not work well in small local shops, so please do not plan on this as a primary payment option, especially if traveling outside the U.S.
- Carry medications in their original containers, clearly labeled. Confirm that you have enough for the entire trip.
- We recommend you bring medications in your carry-on, so you will still have access to them if your luggage is delayed or lost.
- It is recommended that participants carry a doctor’s letter that lists the diagnosis, treatment, and prescription routine (including generic names of the medication)
Please do not bring a stash of snacks for the program as local shops have plenty that can be purchased. Healthy snacks are provided throughout each day and meals are prepared in quantities that allow for seconds. However, if you have special dietary needs noted on your health form that necessitate bringing some of your own food, you are welcome to do so.
What To Pack
Bring only the items listed below, VISIONS provides everything else. Do not pack more than one week’s worth of clothing, as we do laundry weekly. Remember that comfort and versatility are more important than fashion, and that clothes will get dirty.
- Passport with at least 6 months of validity (see PASSPORT / ID section for details)
- Documents (see DOCUMENTS / MONEY / MEDS section for details)
- Toiletries, medications, and any personal medications. Less than 12 oz
- Sunscreen: 8 – 12 oz
- Bug repellent: 4 oz (see Consumer Report in HEALTH section)
- Bath towel
- Sleeping bag (rated to approx. 15 – 20° Fahrenheit, as nights cool off)
- Pillow (can be travel-sized and brought as a carry-on)
- Daypack/bookbag (can be used as carry-on for flight)
- Sunglasses with UV protection
- 2 water bottles
- Safety glasses for carpentry work (or you may wear your sunglasses)
- 1 pair leather work gloves
- Water resistant working/hiking boots (well broken in)
- Sport sandals with straps (Tevas, Chacos, etc.) and/or flip-flops (for showers, light hikes, beaches, etc.)
- Sweater, polar fleece, or hoodie
- Raincoat or poncho
- 2 long-sleeve wicking shirts
- 5 – 6 t-shirts (spaghetti straps and revealing tops are not permitted)
- 1 dress-up shirt (or skirt for girls)
- 2 pair jeans or other durable work pants
- 2 – 3 pair shorts (at least end of fingertip in length; no short shorts)
- Medium-weight, non-cotton long underwear
- Sleepwear (may be your long underwear)
- 4 – 5 pair work day socks (above the ankle)
- Swimsuit (one-piece or tankini for girls)
- Baseball/sun hat
- Warm hat
- Student ID, if available
- Spending money (see DOCUMENTS / MONEY / MEDS section for details)
- Camera (not a phone; see PACKING GUIDELINES section for details)
- Twin bottom sheet
- Wristwatch with alarm
- Laundry bag
- Book to read (no e-books)
- Headlamp or flashlight (for reading at night)
- Musical instrument
- School and art supplies – these will be put to good use!
- Tennis shoes (not a substitute for work boots!)
- Spanish dictionary
- Camp chair or portable backrest that sits directly on the ground (used for group meetings). There are some chairs on site, but bring your own if you’d prefer (example here)
- Psyllium fiber capsules and / or acidophilus pills—supplements that can help with travel / diet changes and only will be taken if needed. Not Ex-Lax.
- Small homestay gift – no more than $10 worth (ex: candle, photo album, or a small souvenir from your hometown)
- We recommend treating clothing and gear (shoes, clothes) with permethrin, which helps repel mosquitos. You can buy pre-treated clothing and gear or treat them yourself, and do this before packing instead of bringing permethrin with you. Treated clothing remains protective after multiple washings. Note that there aren’t really any/many mosquitos at our elevation at the homebase in Patate, but there are some mosquitos in the Galapagos.
- The VISIONS designated travel agent is Aileen Setiawan at Discover Travel, 215.925.6174 or email@example.com
- VISIONS strongly recommends that flights are booked with Aileen since she has the arrival and departure parameters as well as an overview of all participants’ itineraries in order to facilitate travel days. It is not guaranteed that there will be more than one participant on every flight, but participants booking flights through Aileen will be placed on the same travel itineraries whenever possible.
- If families choose not to book with Aileen, the itinerary must be submitted to VISIONS for approval prior to booking. Neither VISIONS nor our travel agent will be able to assist with travel issues associated with flights booked through an alternative option.
- In cases of flight delays or changed flight dates, Aileen is a resource, but there will also be instances when parents may need to call an airline to assist.
- Unaccompanied Minor (UM) Service is required by some airlines for minors who are not traveling with an adult. Aileen will inform you of the requirements, and please also check the regulations of your carrier. UM assistance is arranged directly with the airline, but you will need to share the details with VISIONS so we can pass it along to program leaders. If you are not booking with Aileen and are booking directly with the airline using miles, the airline might not advise you of the UM requirement, which can cause last minute issues at the airport. It is each family’s responsibility to take care of UM requirements well in advance of travel day.
Evacuation & Trip Insurance
Please print this information for the participant to take during travel days.
- The VISIONS home office is available around the clock on flight days. Leaders arrive to program locations prior to the program start, so they will not be traveling with participants.
- Go directly to the gate of the next flight if you have a connection, even if you have a long connection. Check the screen/monitor for the gate number of your connecting flight, and ask for help from airport personnel if needed.
- If any of your flights change or if you miss a connection, contact the VISIONS office (406.551.4423) immediately so we can update the program leaders and help with your backup plan. It is best if the participant contacts the office directly so we can walk through the process together. (VISIONS is not responsible for flight changes, but we do everything we can to assist with any issues.)
Arrival to the Program
- If you are arriving in a foreign country, you will go through immigration, where you will have your passport stamped and you may be asked some questions about your reasons for travel. You are traveling as a tourist in this case, not for work. Next you will collect your luggage and go through Customs, where officials may check what you’re bringing into the country. You will then exit the secure area, where your VISIONS leaders will be waiting with signs and wearing VISIONS t-shirts.
- If you are arriving to a U.S. program, VISIONS leaders will be waiting for you in the baggage claim area.
- VISIONS leaders meet each participant at the program airport as they arrive. Parents receive a “safe arrival” call from a leader and your child from the airport. Keep in mind that this may take upwards of 1.5 hours from the time your child lands until receiving the calls, especially if passing through Customs. If extenuating situations arise, such as needing to catch a ferry or bus to homebase, the call will be made as soon as possible and parents are always welcome to call the VISIONS office for updates. Note that we would be in touch with parents proactively if a participant didn’t arrive as scheduled.
Departure from the Program
- Leaders travel with participants to the departure airport and they will remain on site until all flights have departed.
- Leaders will remind participants of the pre-departure checklist items that are relevant to the return flights. (For example: Keep cash on hand for baggage fees, and keep your cell phone and charger in your carry-on.)
- In the case of changes to return flights, we instruct participants to call parents (or whoever will be picking up). However, the VISIONS office is available for assistance as needed.
- Upon arrival, you will just follow everyone else from your flight to the Customs lines and your leaders will meet you outside of the secure area and then will make the call home.
Being In Touch
Calling the Program
If you need to get in touch for an urgent matter outside of the call days, please call the program site directly. Leave a message if there is no answer, and messages are checked at least once a day. If you’re not able to get through, you may also call the VISIONS home office. During non-business hours, a 24-hour number is provided on the office message system.
Weekly Calls Home
Remember that we make time for kids to connect with home once a week. Not all choose to do so, but the opportunity is provided. When parents receive the “arrival call” from your child and a leader at the program airport, you will be informed of the next call date.
The common way for kids to make calls home from Ecuador is from a local internet / international calling office where calls are charged by the minute and are very inexpensive. These calls are made once a week and we allow for approximately 30 minutes.
While VISIONS leaders do not post constant updates from the field (their primary job being to be fully present with the program and kids), we do post a few photos and short updates every week to the VISIONS Facebook and Instagram pages, which we invite you to follow.
Due to unreliable local mailing systems and the time required for mail to arrive, there won’t be a mailing address. If you need to send something to your child, please contact the VISIONS office.