This project aims to help a small coffee producing village in El Airo located in the southern part of Ecuador’s Loja province. The majority of families in El Airo are dedicated to the cultivation of coffee as a cash crop. This crop is the principal source of income for almost every family, organically grown and recognized as one of the best in Ecuador. Sugar cane, yucca, banana and a variety of native fruits and vegetables are also grown for daily consumption. Most families also raise chickens, pigs and a few have cattle and guinea pigs. Due to coffee’s importance within the community, the inhabitants of El Airo have organized themselves into coffee cooperatives. These cooperatives exist to improve crop management and quality and to negotiate better prices for members’ harvests.
The Southern Andes of Ecuador is a beautiful area and as well as your work on the coffee plantations you will be able to enjoy the local area, relaxing, hiking to local waterfalls, cycling, visiting the Yacuri National Park and of course drinking your own cup of handmade coffee!
You will learn a lot about the coffee making process from your host farmer as well as learning about the local traditions and culture from your host family. This project is a great opportunity for someone who enjoys being active, being immersed in Ecuadorian culture and doesn’t mind being in isolated surroundings. The main coffee harvesting season for this project is from May to August/September. The project is closed during rainy season from January to March.
As a volunteer your primary focus will be to assist an organic coffee farmer with his or her day to day farming tasks related to:
If you volunteer during harvest (between May and August) your contribution will be of significant impact because sometimes farmers cannot harvest and process the coffee beans as quickly as they ripen. During this time you will learn every step of the coffee process including harvesting, de-pulping, fermenting, washing, drying, sorting, toasting and grinding.
If you come outside the harvest season you will learn and help with other coffee-related tasks including selecting coffee seeds (beans), pruning, clearing land, de-weeding, creating organic pesticides and distinguishing between coffee varietals. You also will get to learn how to take the parchment off dry beans and toast and grind those beans.
2) Other Crops & Activities
No matter what time of year you come there will be work and opportunities to learn about a variety of crops. You will learn to identify, care for and harvest yucca, plantains and exotic fruits such as granadillas and naranjillas. You may also learn how to work with bees, pigs, cows, chickens or how to extract unrefined sugar from cane!
As you work with and get to know your host farmer, he or she will informally teach you about organic agriculture, their culture and the Spanish language.
Please keep in mind: Work pace and hours in rural Ecuador may differ from what you are accustomed to. Be flexible and relaxed in your expectations as work ebbs and flows. When it rains or there is minimal work to be done it is not unusual for farmers to only work a half day or take Friday as a weekend. On the other hand, during harvest farmers may work through the rain and on Saturdays. Also, farmers at times have non-farming work to do. Most times they will include you in this work. This provides variety and a change of pace to your experience. Other activities can include baking bread, fixing motorcycles, cooking meals for visiting dignitaries, etc.
Although every volunteer’s primary project is to assist an organic farmer with his or her day to day tasks there will be time available for secondary projects if desired. Secondary projects require self-initiative. If you do not find something of interest below you are free and encouraged to propose a secondary project which will be checked against community needs. Ideas are as follows:
- Teaching English
Every volunteer has the option to teach English in primary schools. Volunteers may also have the opportunity to build the capacity of the high school English teacher through conversational English. In Ecuador, English has become valuable asset for securing stable jobs but rural children in El Airo do not begin learning English until high school. This is to their detriment as children in the city begin learning in primary school.
- Cooking Classes/Health & Nutrition
If you have experience and/or education in health or nutrition, sharing this knowledge is a great way to contribute to the community as it addresses an expressed need. Workshops, classes or talks on these subjects may be arranged. Early childhood health and nutrition are a priority.
If you have sales, IT or general business experience and/or education then you may be able to contribute to the coffee association’s goal of selling their packaged coffee, Andes Café.
If you have experience and/or education in tourism you may be able to contribute to the projects goal of researching and potentially developing Coffee Tourism in El Airo.
You will work 4 – 6 hours a day (from Monday to Friday) and you’ll be off on weekends.
This project is located in El Airo, in an isolated area. You will have to catch a bus from Quito to Loja (approximately 10 hours) and then a second bus to El Airo (approximately 5 hours). There is the option of catching a flight from Quito to Loja which will cut down your travelling time considerably.