Ecuador, Jennifer

Jennifer Worked on a Teaching and Community Care Placement in Ecuador

In the mornings I worked in a nursery, a lovely place with gorgeously-warm staff and lots of hyperactive children and inquisitive babies from 1 to 5 years. My tasks included playing (a lot), monitoring and cleaning up during ‘lunch’ (break time) and teaching English. I did not anticipate just how hard the latter would be especially to a group of 3 to 5 year olds. They were unable to read or write and didn’t know the days of the week in Spanish, let alone in English! These children challenged my creativity and at times my patience! Unlike the Ecuadorian culture of copying off the board, I had to do anything but to maintain their interest and get something to stick. One time we ripped up coloured paper and made a big bowl of salad together. Their sweet faces lit up with the excitement. Often we’d march round the classroom singing silly songs I’d make up, or crawl around on the floor pretending to be farm animals. It usually looked like chaos, but when I asked them “What colour is this?” and they’d shout “BLUE!” simultaneously, I knew that my hard work was paying off.

I loved working at Cenit during the afternoons. There, I took part in the street child project, playing with children in the nearby market. The other volunteers and I, about 5 of us, worked in Centro Comercial Chiriyacu where we sang songs, played games and made things according to the theme of the week that we’d chosen. Our kids ranged from ages 3 to 12 and as many as 30 kids would come to play with us in the empty room above the market. Sometimes we’d play ‘Simon dice que’ (Simon says) or sing ‘La Familia Sapo’ (The Family Toad). Many of our kids had rotting teeth, mainly because their parents would give them sweets but never brush their teeth. So we started to brush their teeth with them every day. A brother and sister, Pamela (4) and Leandro (5), gorgeous children weighing each little more than a bag of flour, came every day. Leandro told us that he’d never brushed his teeth before. And you could tell, as he was already missing his four upper front teeth. At Cenit, I had the pleasure of meeting some of the happiest children I’ve ever known. The other volunteers and I were all well-known in Chiriyacu and the parents trusted us to take their sons and daughters to play when we walked around the stalls each day.

Nearing the end of my time volunteering, I spent a month teaching English in the ‘hermosa’ city of Cuenca at a primary school called Gran Colombia and helping in a Christian organisation for children called Aurora. I was invited to live with a gorgeous family who my friend lived with, also a Lattitude volunteer. Cuenca is beautiful and I felt privileged to stay there. There’s a wonderfully designed church on every corner and the central Parque Calderon is simply stunning. They had festivals it seemed at least once a week where the whole town would gather by the cathedral, light fabric balloons that rose into the sky and watch the fireworks explode from a huge ‘castillo’ (castle structure they’d build especially for the occasion). It was such a warm friendly atmosphere that I realised I’d never felt more part of a community before. As strange as it sounds, my friend’s family became my family within days, and my Cuencan brother always called me ‘ñaña’ (sis). We went to visit the whole family during weekends and every Wednesday we would have a big meal with all our aunties, uncles and cousins. It was truly humbling how welcoming they were. They even have a photo of me on their fridge next to their family photos!

My time in La Escuela de Gran Colombia was really fun. I would teach lessons to classes of 30 children, from ages 5 to 13. All the volunteers were given free rein and we taught them starting from the very basics. It was awesome seeing our pupils improve, even over such a small period of time. Sometimes I’d teach lessons with my friend Pam and they would be some of the most fun. At times the whole class would be in stitches just like us! And every Friday we would continue painting the walls of the art room with flowers, butterflies, birds and anything pretty and colourful. The room looked amazing when we finally finished.

In the afternoons I played with the kids in Aurora, sometimes football, sometimes merengue dancing, and sometimes just keeping the kids quiet while they were having a talk about friendship. Though sometimes I felt like the kid! I brought the games I learnt in Cenit with me, and every now and then we’d even have a game of ”Simon says”!

A year ago, I never would have thought I’d be able to call another country home, but now I can say that I will always feel truly welcome here. I would also never have believed I’d be able to live so long and so far away from my family and friends. I wondered whether you needed to be a cold person to manage without shedding a tear. But I’ve realised that if you put in the effort, you can always find a place to call home, especially in a country with such warm friendly people. That’s not to say I didn’t miss everyone back in England, but I got used to not seeing them every day, especially as it became apparent I was perfectly fine without the constant assistance of my mum! This without doubt has readied me for university.

Lastly I’d like to say how I am forever grateful to Lattitude and the funders of my bursary for what you have given me. I went to Ecuador lacking in confidence, frightened of being away from home, and not sure what to expect. I will leave feeling confident and proud, and knowing that it’s more fun when you don’t know what’s going to happen next. It hasn’t been easy, but that’s what’s made it so invaluable to me as I never would have grown the ways I have without this opportunity. I’m excited for the future and I know some day I’ll go back there to visit my second home.

Here are some of my most memorable moments:

  • Singing with Pam like we’d never sing again, on the bus home from work in Cuenca
  • My awesome day in the huge market town of Otavalo with Carolina, my friend from the nursery
  • Celebrating the World Cup with the Cuenca girls like burly men in a pub!
  • Machu Picchu
  • Abseiling through waterfalls in Baños during Semana Santa
  • Showing the Chiriyacu children their new playroom for the first time
  • Watching the sun rise after the scariest night of my life enduring a thunderstorm in a tent on top of an Andean mountain
  • Saying good bye to my family at the end of my volunteering experience