Chinwe Volunteered in Ecuador Teaching and Working with Street Children
My time spent teaching in Ecuador has been a truly life changing experience. When I first arrived I had no idea what to expect but after spending just two weeks living in Quito and taking Spanish lessons, I soon realised that whatever happened this would be a great experience. My fellow volunteers were all great people and soon it seemed as if we had been friends for much longer than a few weeks.
I was so lucky to be placed in Cuenca. It is a fantastic city and there is an exciting mix of cultures that was totally different to what I was used to. Cuenca is small enough to have retained its history and culture yet not so small that it felt isolated. More or less everywhere was within walking distance and there was a real small town community feel. This meant that the Cuenca volunteers were able to meet up regularly and easily. This enabled us to build strong bonds as volunteers and friends, bonds which have long outlived the experience.
It is hard to explain life as a volunteer. Once the shock of a new country, language and culture is over, life seems to become more ‘normal’ than back home and I loved every minute of it. I never took for granted the daily journey to and from work, the weekend trips exploring the Andes, the coast and even the Amazon, the market stalls of indigenous food and crafts, the language, everything. Working as a volunteer is amongst the most rewarding things I have ever done. I would spend my mornings teaching English, watching the progress of the children, children who didn’t know the alphabet who eventually learnt to write whole sentences. Break time inevitably meant being invited to join an exhilarating game of South American style football or basketball with at least four games being played simultaneously on the same small concrete court.
Afternoons were spent in Aurora looking after children who may otherwise be on the streets where they could be putting themselves in danger. I was quite overwhelmed at first at how affectionate and accepting the children were and at how much fun it was.
I never had an idle afternoon; they were spent making crafts, playing basketball or feeding the kids which could be at times chaotic. I don’t think it ever really felt like work, more a chance to have fun with and learn from the kids.
It wasn’t always easy, sometimes the children would simply decided that they did not want to learn that day and there were times when I just wanted to give up and walk out of class. Then there were the difficult kids at Aurora, who could be troublesome, but these were all part and parcel of the experience and I wouldn’t change those experiences for the world. I believe that they have made me a more resilient and determined person.
My time was not all spent volunteering; because I stayed with a host family I now have a second home in Ecuador. From the beginning I was wholeheartedly accepted into the family and I was never once made to feel like a burden. My family were incredibly loving and literally took me in as one of their own and still refer to me as such to this day.
My sister took me on trips, I hung out with my little brother and his friends and my parents were always willing to help and make me feel at home in any way that they could. I especially looked forward to the family meal on Wednesday lunchtime when the entire family would eat and spend time together, sometimes it was quite a struggle to pull myself away to go back to work). When I returned home my Ecuadorian brother who had just completed his placement in England even came to stay with me for two weeks. This is one of the best things that I got out of the experience, a second family who happen to live in Ecuador, for this I am forever grateful to Lattitude.
My experience in South America has changed my life and it is an experience that I am exceptionally thankful for. Not only did I do my part to help a community, I found a home on the other side of the world and was able to explore one of the most vibrant and diverse countries and continents in the world. Not many people have the opportunity to-do such a thing and I have no doubt that I would have been one of those people had it not been for the understanding and generosity of the people at Lattitude. I would not have been able to have had this experience without the Lattitude bursary I received, I would not have been able to fulfil a dream that I have been passionate about for a very long time. This experience has changed my outlook on life and people and how I deal with different and unfamiliar situations which is something that I don’t think you learn at school or university; it has also encouraged me to continue to volunteer whenever I can.