“Por favor, no te vayas!”

Today I am sitting here in a room that I’m sharing with Cynthia, Josselyn, Chelsea, and Alex at La Barquita. Tomorrow will be our last full day in Ecuador, so I thought it would be nice to recap over our service-learning trip here and share some of my highlights and personal insights of our time here.

The entire experience here in Guayaquil with the PERL 300 group has vastly exceeded my expectations. I knew it would be an amazing trip, but I didn’t expect to have so much fun, to get so close with everyone, and to experience so many emotions. I feel that I learnt a lot about myself on this trip. For one, I learnt that I do have a ‘teacher voice’ in me and that I am capable of being a strong leader when I need to be. Being by nature more of an observer, initially I did not imagine that I would experience such a rush while teaching, especially with the youth as I’d had no previous experience teaching children and adolescents. The first time I felt this adrenaline pumping was on our second day of teaching when I was partnered with Ben – I was loud and energetic, and the kids were very engaged in our activities. I felt that I was completely in my element, and I couldn’t have been any happier. At one point that day, one girl put her foot up against the door, telling us not to leave: “Por favor, no te vayas” – “Please, don’t go” was what the children at Amaguaña colegio would yell out, whenever our time was up with them in the classroom and we had to leave after our English classes. I never wanted to go; I always wanted to stay to teach and learn more about them. To see these kids’ excitement each day we’d arrive at the school was truly a unique experience. Hearing them shout out for us to come teach their class as we were searching for our next destination or how they would approach us with their notebooks to autograph was both hilarious and flattering. Small gestures such as these made me feel very welcomed, loved, and appreciated. Above all, though, my favourite thing about these kids was to see them smile and have fun while we were teaching them. I will miss them immensely.

Another highlight of this trip for me was getting to visit Damian’s House. In general, the people here had such fun-loving personalities; just seeing the contentment of many of the patients in this care centre, despite being a stigmatized group of individuals and having very little materially was very profound. Both the first and second time I was there, the elderly patients expressed how grateful they were that we were visiting, thanking God that we were there to spend time with them. I, too, felt thankful for having had the opportunity to meet them and to learn about the kinds of activities they use to occupy their time to keep themselves engaged with life, such as making jewellery, hamocs, and other handcrafted goods. During my second visit there, I bought $44 worth of beautiful hand-made bracelets from one lady, and we were taught how to thread bracelets by another lady named Ester, with whom I had a very nice conversation as well as a some good laughs. She spoke to us about how she enjoyed talking to the youth of today’s generation because it is so different from her time growing up, in that we have so much more freedom and opportunity. Her warm, upbeat personality and wonderful smile made me think to myself, “I hope I am like her when I am older.”

Finally, of course, there is the day of the house-build, which I know I will never forget for the rest of my life. Having the opportunity to experience what it was like to walk in Señora Juanita’s shoes, literally and figuratively, was extremely arduous yet one of the most rewarding days of my life. I will never forget the moment when Raedean and I were in the kitchen helping her prepare the arroz con pollo, and Raedean asked me to ask Señora Juanita if she was excited about her new home. When I asked her this question, she immediately began to tear up, saying that she was very excited, as she is completely alone – left to look after her children, the home and work without any support from her husband or extended family, and, as such, thanked us all for being there that day to help out. Although, at first, Raedean did not understand what Señora Juanita was telling me, she could sense what was going on as she saw both of us tear up, and I, shortly after, translated what she had said. This was a very emotional and touching moment for me, because it was in this moment when Señora Juanita was expressing her gratitude, that really made me comprehend the impact our presence was having on her and her family’s future standard of living and perhaps quality of life, even if to the smallest extent.

Although in North America we live in abundance materially, in general, I find that we lack a lot on a personal and intimate level. From our time here in Guayaquil – having visiting a variety of low-income areas and having encountered so many inspiring people who care to help others and to make a difference – I believe that these individuals have illustrated the value of community and the true meaning of life, in that being surrounded by loving people and having a supportive environment is essential to one’s well-being. These people have also shown the importance of expressing gratitude and positivity on a daily basis as a key aspect to one’s sense of health and wellness. This is something that we, as North Americans, need to improve if we wish to be a happier and healthier nation. Being that we are all interconnected beings in this universe, striving to break out of that ‘bubble’ mentality and acknowledge rest of the world’s problems would help to create a better world, I think. There are so many beautiful and bittersweet moments I could continue to share about this trip, but words fail me. What I will say, though, is that if ever another opportunity presents itself to study and/or work in another developing country in the future, I will gladly go for it, because this course was the best learning experience of my academic career, thus far, as well as the perfect conclusion to my undergraduate degree. 🙂