The Closest Thing to Being Angelina Jolie
Not many people get a chance to say they actually got to stay up all night on a terrace of a hostel in the heart of downtown Guayaquil listening to garbage trucks that disguise themselves as ice cream trucks, hear the boom-booms of the weekend salsa parties below you, to go to bed only to come back to say they’ve been locked out of their room, or exchange stories and pictures of missing cats, have empanada parties, play hosts to international guests (that inspire you even further) and listening to your team mates (in this case family) say their lives are forever changed and they now know for certain what their true calling is.
I am now spending a quiet day at home enjoying the rain outside my window and blasting some music in my bedroom. I am also avoiding having lunch because I am a little terrified that I might just tear up as I’ve gotten used to have family meals (which means 19 people most of the time-talk about the being the only child syndrome). Also I figured every trip needs a post trip blog entry just to sum it all up (okay I may be lying here-there’s no way I can sum it ALL up.)
So I have gone missing for 16 days from Edmonton and not many people have realized I have done so, till the 10th day when I started restated my threats of not getting back on to the plane back to Edmonton. I know many people have been feverishly praying for my return because for some weird reason their worlds can’t function without me. Their prayers were answered as I arrived back home yesterday night.
It all started in September 2012 when I was offered a news assignment from the griff to interview Cynthia Puddu, the instructor for PERL 300 – an inter disciplinary course offering a cross cultural learning experience in Guayaquil. It is a spring course (which is currently in it’s second year) that provide the opportunity to about 15 students from all disciplines to learn about health and wellness in Ecuador.
Let’s just say that little “Brenda Starr” assignment was meant for me.
Oh may I add that this spring course was my true calling-why is it that NOT all of my courses like this?! As a sociology major with a minor in political science having a deep passion for international development as a future career choice, this was the ultimate dream course for me. As much as I enjoy taking sociology courses at MacEwan, I personally find the course has more of a local (Edmonton/Canadian) focus and not enough of an international or globalization concentration. Thankfully some of my political science courses has given me some insight to this area.
I truly believe in education beyond the textbooks and outside the classroom as it gives you a different perspective and puts the theories you learn into practice. In addition, not many students get put into a real working situations. This was an opportunity for me to join a team of physical education students, education, two nursing students and another sociology student to be working hands on with grass root organizations making a difference in their country. This wasn’t a course about us going to teach them to do things better but it was about us learning from them.
My entire family know am such a writerholic and could write for hours whenever am cozied up in a corner not chasing adventures. However, I will spare you from the agony and just entertain you with some of the highlights of this trip and why I see it relevant to my future career choice.
It was our second day in Guayaquil and we were driving around in the heart of downtown when we noticed a large protest and a heavy presence of police. In that moment, my photojournalism instinct overtook me and I was scrambling for my camera in my bagpack – the scene was unreal and it was something I was watching a BBC or an Al-Jazeera political journalist covering. Sad to say, I need to work on my speedy skills as I could not snap photos in time. It’s a scene where it’s embedded in my mind forever instead. It was much later that my entire group found out the people were protesting about the demolition of homes in the suburban area of Guayaquil. When President Rafael Correa was running for president last year, he had promised people in that area he would help them and made sure they would not be turned out from the land they were staying on.
One of the service learning organizations we got the opportunity to work with is Hogar de Cristo. It was my personal favourite out of the bunch simply because of the kind of work they do. This non-profit organization is located in the heart of this suburban area where the demolition of these houses took place. Here I must clarify that the term ‘suburban’ is a stark contrast to a North American understanding. The only way I can describe the area is pretty much a “squatter” or “shanty” town. Hogar de Cristo provides sustainable housing, schooling, micro financial, health care assistance among many to low income families. This organization are also part of pilot projects, one being to teach the local women to have their own aqua culture farm and another a water filtering project using ceramic pots.
It was here we met Pierro and his colleague, Alessandro who were having a though couple of days due to the demolition of the houses. They both work closely with the refugees from Columbia and Peru as well with the locals who end up coming to this area to settle down by providing help with the basic necessities of housing, jobs and healthcare. Many of the residents in these sectors are not recognized as legal residents due to a long standing complicated legal and political stance. These two colleagues work closely as well with the UNHCR in order to receive the necessary support. Guayaquil is a very transient community due to the heavy onset of industrialization and urban renewal taking place.
Speaking to Pierro later on when he visited us for dinner with his friends, he said it is now a struggle to get all these people (the locals and refugees) basic rights in terms of documentation, health care and financing because now they essentially do not have anything. A huge majority of these people stay in the cycle of poverty because by not having access to these basic needs, they purely concentrate on just surviving on a day to day basis. Trying to find jobs in the city would be hard due to the inefficiency of public transportation system and many of them are not well educated. This means they only are capable of doing the random odd jobs enough to purchase a simple meal of probably plantains and rice. Many of the people who were in these sectors are also refugees from neighbouring Columbia and Peru and just like how some Canadians have a prejudice toward immigrants-it is the same for some Ecuadorians. It didn’t help that these very same people who were evacuated had their tents burned down by the police after they lost their homes. Naturally living in such cramped conditions, there are other social ills that come such as violence and domestic abuse in addition schooling too can become a problem.
The situation has become a little more intense now as well simply because the government has halted all building materials and supplies to be delivered to Hogar de Cristo. This affects numerous house building projects for the various families in this suburban area. Our team was worried that the house build we were going to do might be affected. On the day of the housebuild it was apparent, how important an organization like Hogar de Cristo is. I will let the some of the pictures I took do the talking. In addition you can always read Erica’s and Nicole’s post about the house build day.
One of the struggles I’ve noticed with all the various service learning organizations here that unlike in Edmonton, there is a lack of coorperation amongst both government non-for-profit agencies as they are either trying to protect their own interests or fighting for the same limited resources that seem insufficient.
It is organizations like Hogar De Cristo who do so much with so little striving hard to provide basic human rights to these numerous individuals by helping them with housing and providing micro financing amongst many. Through all the work that they do, I totally love the concept of how Hogar de Cristo believe in empowering individuals and at the same time trying to build up a healthy community that is self reliant. The concept of sustainability here is huge – the people are thought to live off the land by giving back to the land, embodying the spirit of the “circle of life.” Pierro who is currently pursuing his Masters in international relations, is a keen learner on how government uses fear to threaten and abuse its power toward its people in a country. This is something he and his colleagues witness everyday in Guayaquil. Another volunteer I met was Stephen, 19 years, who hails from Germany. It blew my mind that he has been volunteering with Hogar de Cristo for almost a year now and he arrived with no Spanish in hand. Now he speaks it fluently. I asked why is it that he is here and his simple response was because “I want to and I want to make a difference!” He’ll be going back to Germany in August to pursue his business studies. Pierro and Alessandro are planning to stay on till September so they can continue volunteering with Hogar de Cristo.
It is interesting how one protest in the streets of downtown Guayaquil connected the dots so much clearly for me to what Hogar de Cristo is all about and where I see myself possibly 3 years down the road in the field I want to be. This was what I emailed a friend after meeting Pierro and his friends in addition to being in the field while I was still in Guayaquil, “It´s funny how as a kid I wanted to be like working in the UN but now am more like I want to work with these kind of organizations. Who cares if it doesn´t sound as glamourous as “Oh am working at the UN!” but whateves. It´s the grassroot organizations that´s the hardcore heart and soul of a community.”
Now as I bid you “Ciao!” I am off to work on my final project for this course which will be a photo exhibit and finish up some journalling. Oh did I mention the fact that I’ll relive this experience all over again despite the fact it doesn’t matter am not getting credits for it?! My advice, if you get to do a cross cultural experience such as this and despite your faculty deems it not meeting the syllable requirements, I say go for it anyways! You can thank me later!
You should also keep June 20 free as you will be invited for a grandiose presentation of our adventures and experiences. Look out for more details of it on the blog.