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Cuenca, Ecuador

Cuenca, Ecuador


About the City

Cuenca is Ecuador’s third-largest city and the capital of the Azuay province. Known for its Spanish colonial architecture, the center of the city has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the prevalence of historic buildings. At 8,200 feet above sea level, the city is surrounded by the Andes mountains and provides an excellent base for exploring Ecuador’s magnificent biological diversity. Cuenca has a reputation as an artistic and intellectual hub, as evidenced by the impressive number of galleries, museums, artists, poets, and writers in the area. With a mild year-round temperature, lots of arts and culture, and beautiful colonial buildings surrounded by cobblestone streets, Cuenca is a fascinating place to spend your bridge year.

About the Organization

AMIGOS is an international non-profit organization that, for nearly 50 years, has operated on the belief that young people can change the world. Founded and headquartered in Houston, Texas, AMIGOS has grown throughout the United States with 25 affiliated chapters in major cities and is working with 30 partner agencies throughout the Americas. Today, AMIGOS conducts a broad array of health, social enterprise, human rights, environmental, and education programs in response to priorities identified by host communities and partner agencies in Latin America.

Since 1965, more than 28,000 AMIGOS volunteers have gained a lifelong commitment to community service while strengthening multicultural understanding and friendships throughout the Americas. While the specific projects have changed over the years, the vision has remained the same: a world where each young person becomes a lifelong catalyst for social change.

Fellowship Structure

Tufts 1+4 Fellows will attend the Tufts 1+4 Orientation on the Tufts campus in late August before departing for Ecuador. Upon arrival in country, AMIGOS will provide a comprehensive in-country orientation to familiarize fellows with their new community and prepare them for their service experience. Fellows will then spend a month enrolled in intensive Spanish language classes while learning about their new city and culture and getting to know their host families. After one month of Spanish immersion, Fellows will begin their full-time service placement, which will last from approximately October through late May. Fellows will return home in late May and participate in the Tufts 1+4 Post-Service Retreat in September, as they begin their first semester at Tufts.

Language Training

Although Spanish language background is not required for participation, any Spanish that you bring to the program will be a great asset. Intensive Spanish at all levels is offered through one month of intensive language training at the beginning of the program. Those who come in with little Spanish background can continue to enhance their learning through language exchange and other opportunities.

Housing and Meals

Fellows stay with carefully selected host families, which provide a private room for each participant. Living with a host family offers an immersive opportunity to experience the culture of your new community and to build relationships with locals. Host families provide room and board for participants, and most students eat all meals with their host family unless they are traveling. All participants will live with these host families in their headquarter city and commute (no more than an hour) to their service placement around or outside of the city.

Support Services and Health

Note: In order to be eligible to participate in AMIGOS, Fellows must be able to meet the General Health Criteria for AMIGOS Participants. If you have any questions about these requirements, please contact us. ​

In addition to receiving ongoing support from Tisch College staff and senior management throughout the bridge year, fellows in Cuenca benefit from three levels of local support: AMIGOS staff, individual placement supervisors, and host families. AMIGOS in-country staff provide a week-long orientation to the program, have one-on-one check-in meetings with participants every other week, host monthly workshops on a variety of leadership development topics, and plan and supervise group excursions to locations throughout the country. AMIGOS staff is available 24 hours a day to assist fellows with any issues that arise throughout their bridge year, whether related to health, homestay, service placement, or other areas. Local placement supervisors will oversee fellows’ daily work and contribute to their learning and growth. Host families contribute to fellows’ cultural integration and provide a safe and supportive home environment throughout the bridge year.

AMIGOS has developed a list of recommended urgent and primary care providers in Cuenca and the surrounding area and will assist fellows with any health concerns that arise during their bridge year. Fellows will have international medical insurance through AMIGOS as well as international emergency medical coverage through Tufts University’s partnership with International SOS.


Fellows use the public transportation system or walk within the city.

Skills Fellow Will Develop

The program is specifically designed to give participants a hands-on, real-life experience and unlock each participant’s potential as a catalyst for social change. Fellows have the opportunity at their internship site to design and implement a project related to the host organization’s work. This experience provides a crucial opportunity for enriching one’s worldview before deciding on a field of study or career path. In addition, Tufts 1+4 Fellows can expect to improve their communication and collaboration skills, become better critical thinkers and decision-makers, and be able to take initiative and do self-directed work.

Fellows also develop several concrete skills that are applicable in a variety of fields:

  • Community Assessment and Relationship Building
  • Project Visioning and Action Planning
  • Resource Mobilization
  • Project Implementation and Evaluation.

Activities Beyond Service

Outside of their structured service, Tufts 1+4 Fellows participate in the following activities:

  • Ongoing workshops: Throughout the year, fellows meet up for reflection activities and workshops about specific themes. These workshops facilitate greater learning through peer support and reflection and serve as a means to connect AMIGOS volunteers to local, civic-minded youth who will participate in some of the workshops.
  • Peer Learning and Youth Events: Fellows help plan and execute a youth-focused event in Cuenca. This project is selected and created by the fellows in conjunction with Ecuadorian youth. Fellows help raise funds and garner the support of local civic institutions to carry out the event.
  • Excursions: Fellows travel to places of interest in Ecuador, like Baños and Tena, so that they can see more of the country and participate in intensive learning and reflection activities. These excursions include visits to historical sites and fun outdoor activities like hiking and swimming. The main focus of these excursions, however, is to bring volunteers together for decompression time, ongoing evaluation, learning, and reflection.

Service Experience

The host organizations in Cuenca are incredibly dynamic, working to create positive change in the community and provide a better future for its people.

Many host organizations have several areas of focus. While some organizations' mission and vision correspond to a specific theme, other organizations simply offer related programming. For example, while an organization's mission may be centered on youth development, they may offer programming on environmental education and conservation or on cultural preservation and promotion. It is important to note that while participants may have a specific field of interest, they will most likely engage in several different fields and themes over the course of their internship.

If you want to work in a specific area not listed here, please contact us! When possible, we will work to find a placement within our service locations that fits your skills and interests.

Public Health

Placements in the public health area allow students to immerse themselves into a number of local nonprofit organizations throughout Cuenca. Within the theme of public health, Fellows may have the opportunity to work with differently abled populations, including aiding organizations that provide services to people with down syndrome or cerebral palsy. Students may also become involved in foundations that help to spread awareness and provide support to people with chronic illnesses such as diabetes or cystic fibrosis.  

Fellows may have the opportunity to focus on one or more of the following support roles:

  • Aiding in a classroom for children with down syndrome
  • Leading community workshops to spread awareness about a chronic illness
  • Planning a bake sale to raise money for a local organization that provides support to children with cancer
  • Creating and fundraising for a summer camp for children with diabetes
  • Attending meetings with local stakeholders and advocate for increased public resources for differently abled students

Education & Teaching English

Placements in this area offer participants the unique opportunity to work directly with youth throughout the city. Participants will be partnered with schools that are committed to seeking positive change in the youth of Cuenca. They will be presented with opportunities to teach a variety of subjects or help develop and implement dynamic programs that engage youth in academic pursuits as well as areas such as life planning, leadership, critical thinking, healthy habits and entrepreneurship.

Fellows may have the opportunity to focus on one or more of the following support roles:

  • Assisting teachers with lesson plans and course content
  • Providing individual support to students during classtime in small groups or one-on-one settings
  • Developing curriculum and leading English language classes to groups of students or teachers
  • Supporting extracurricular activities including art, sports, or other areas
  • Leading community workshops on specific topics like leadership or health
  • Serving as a mentor for students

Women's & Family Empowerment

Fellows can make a difference working at an organization whose mission is to provide leadership and empowerment opportunities to local women and youth. Many of the non-for-profit foundations which focus on women & youth empowerment take a hands-on approach to community engagement and development. It is common for Fellows who work in this sector to support community-wide events and workshops.

Fellows may have the opportunity to focus on one or more of the following support roles:

  • Plan and lead a cosmetology workshop series to help local women explore professional development opportunities
  • Code for research studies that help to inform the public about and prevent gender-based violence 
  • Field news videos and social media in order to collect data for research studies
  • Organize and facilitate workshops for female artisans
  • Collaborate with an environmental agency to advocate and advance an initiative dedicated to protecting local resources, thereby improving quality of life in the community

Social Justice & Immigration Services

Placements in this area provide aid to vulnerable populations throughout Cuenca, most notably, recently arrived Venezuelan refugees. Fellows will support the day to day operations of these nonprofit organizations that provide legal, psychological, and medical support to vulnerable populations.

Fellows may have the opportunity to focus on one or more of the following support roles:

  • Planning and implementing a financial literacy workshop series
  • Assisting immigrants with information regarding how to obtain Visa documents
  • Conducting intake surveys for arriving immigrants and register them in the national database
  • Carry out research on the nationalities arriving to Cuenca in order to best support them
  • Monitoring local newspapers and report on events of significance relating to the populations your organization supports
  • Completing weekly reports on the status of vulnerable groups that your organization supports
Chastidy Vasconez

Chastidy Vasconez, E22

School of Engineering
The kindness and empathy I’ve been shown by my host family allowed me to find my footing and gather the strength I needed to be open-minded and courageous during my time abroad. Ecuador has become a second home to me."