Surf and Service
Published Jul 1, 2009 10:00 AM
Gorgeous beaches, a taste of the local culture and hours of surfing in warm, blue water. Sounds like a vacation that few would turn down, right?
But Bruin Sam Bailey's Eco Surf Volunteers program offers participants so much more than your average getaway. Filling a unique niche of "volun-tourism," his trip combines volunteer work with opportunities to surf and enjoy the exotic locale of Ecuador.
Bailey '00 is a travel veteran, having made his way through more than 30 countries, including Peru, Panama and Costa Rica. Along the way, he witnessed firsthand how foreign investments can destroy local culture in South America, and the experience kindled a passion for protecting the region's natural wonders. He formed Eco Surf Volunteers in August 2008.
"I found something that I truly believe in," Bailey says. "I want to help them preserve their way of life."
On the first 7-10 day trip, Eco Surf volunteers — all Canadian college students, working not for school credit but for what Bailey describes as an "invaluable" cultural immersion experience — spent half of their days working in the Ecuadoran community of Canoa, and the other half soaking up unique cultural experiences like surfing and salsa dancing.
Volunteers taught English to students at a local school through arts and crafts projects and by playing sports, and often ended up learning as much Spanish as they taught English. Local kids helped with beach clean-ups, with construction paper and Quiksilver stickers used as rewards for eager kids. The local leaders were skeptical at first, but they could see the changes the volunteers inspired.
Bailey's voice softens as he describes how hard it was for the volunteers to leave Ecuador. "It was remarkable," he says. "The kids were waving good-bye, the volunteers were crying. The kids keep asking when we're coming back."
He adds that this is not your typical volunteer experience; it's an adventure. Volunteers become part of the community they visit. Everything is done with the purpose of cultural exchange and developing a locally owned tourism industry, from lodging in hotels to eating the catch-of-the-day, to local surfers teaching newbies how to catch a wave.
Ecuador was only the first destination for Eco Surf. This summer, high school as well as college kids have joined his volunteer army; adult trips also may be on the horizon. Bailey believes plenty of South American communities could benefit from Eco Surf.
"There is so much potential and growth within the program to preserve this way of life," he says.