First full week in Ecuador: check. I’m currently in the final step of my Ecuador orientation: my host family stay. The Huertas live in Fajardo, a tiny rural community that is a ten-minute walk from the Manna Project. When I arrived, I was greeted in a house decorated with balloons and streamers and given flowers, a scarf, and chocolate. The family had added an extra room to their house just so that they could be able to host Manna Project volunteers. As I spend more time in the Chillos Valley, I’m learning that I have everything I need. The Ecuadorians give all they have to me, and I don’t know how to thank them.
The Huertas are very proud of the culture of the Chillos Valley, which has deep roots in the indigenous cultures of Ecuador. Almost every house in the valley has a small plot of choclo, the Ecuadorian corn. Corn is a staple of life in Fajardo and dates back to the Incas. I’ve been introduced to various juices of corn, toasted corn, corn soups, and corn kernels that are added to many Ecuadorian dishes. The people living in the pueblo wake up at 5 am to farm the corn and many do not stop working until 9 pm. There are no major grocery stores, only tiendas which are small convenience stores and bakeries on the corners. Fresh fruit and vegetables and meat are sold on the streets, in the patios of peoples’ houses, or in open air markets. Restaurants don’t exist in Fajardo; rather, people cook and set up a table and chairs in their garage or a room of their house for people to visit. The rest of the necessities come from trucks with loudspeakers that pass through the streets selling items such as tanks of gas, potatoes, juice, and water.
The Manna Project was busy this Saturday for inscriptions day. My position was to give the community members diagnostic tests to place them into the correct English levels. The center opened at 9 am, but people began forming a line outside the door at 5 am. In Ecuador, outside of the private schools, the English teachers are usually under qualified. Since they typically haven’t traveled to America, their pronunciations suffer due to lack of contact with native speakers. The community members have shared that the presence of native English speakers at the Manna Project is much more valuable than an English class at a public school.
Inscriptions day was a success. Each level of English (4 classes for adults and 4 classes for kids) is full with 30 students. I elected the programs that I will lead: Adult English 1, Children’s English 3, library/story time hour, kids cooking and physical activity class. All volunteers will take turns being the general activity leader, who manages the center for three hours and plans activities such as games and arts and crafts during that time. The focus of my Lumos service is literacy. I plan to use the Manna Project’s library as a resource to expose children to bilingual books as they simultaneously learn how to read and gain exposure to a second language. I will use exercises such as providing comprehension questions, children taking turns reading a page, and changing a word and having the children correct the grammar. From my first few days at the center, I’ve witnessed that the children are willing to read. Now, I hope to get age-appropriate books in their hands with consistency and use reading to improve their language usage. The children coming to the center from illiterate families and poor public schools are often facing the double challenge of struggling in both English and Spanish. I’ve had to correct children on grammatical and spelling errors in their own language, Spanish. Reading is a great way to help children become familiar with the correct spellings of words and different sentence structures.
I’ve had some challenges in the last week: cold showers, lack of availability of safe water, minimal access to internet, and my big mistake of losing my entire wallet and keys. But, my host family has been a blessing and I feel like I’m in the right place. My twelve-year old host brother Iori told me he starts to cry when children younger than him try to sell things on buses and don’t even have bread. Iori constantly gets up on the bus for older people or people with children. He even went on 30-minute walks with me to the center multiple times to help me look for my keys. The Ecuadorians I know are giving, thoughtful, and selfless. They share everything around them – whatever food they have, stories, their houses, and their culture. I can’t even count how many times I’ve been told the story of Alexander von Humboldt, who famously climbed Ecuador’s highest volcano, Chimborazo. He commented that he was flabbergasted to meet the most peaceful people in the world, given that they lived amongst no less than 50 volcanoes! Ecuador is a special country!
Next week is a full work week at the Manna Project. I will be leading programs on my own for the first time. I already have children recognizing my face, and it’s really nice to see the same kids returning almost every afternoon. For some of them, the center is the best part of their day. Thank you, Ecuador, for all the love and kindness you’ve given me during my first week here.
My host brother and sister: Elaine and Iori
Library hour/story time
The Teen Center
The Chillos Valley