I went on an alternative break to Ecuador this past spring break and had an amazing experience.
Ecuador is not a country covered much in the news (well, why on planet earth would journalists cover it when there are the ultra important Charlie Sheen matters to keep updated on), but it is a nation that deserves as much attention for its cultural beauty and spirit, as it does for its need for better schools and economic system.
During our trip the group worked with children from outdoor markets. These kids are often robbed of a real childhood because they are recruited to work the markets from exceedingly young ages, sometimes even as young as four. For at least two hours a day we tried to give them back a small piece of their childhood, attempting to give them the undivided attention they desperately crave, but rarely receive.
We practiced their math skills, and even tried to teach them some basic English, but I think the true purpose was to show them that there are people in this world that care about them, and want them to do well.
When I was younger, I was the ultimate idealist. I thought I could save the world and that there could be easy fixes to issues well beyond my understanding. The older I get, the more I understand how complicated the world really is. Don’t get me wrong, I am still an idealist; I still believe that people are inherently good, that we care about each another, and I even believe that I can change the world, but unlike before, I now understand the journey will not be as easy as I had originally imagined it.
As I look back on my experience with the market children: their filthy clothes, their worn-down shoes and sunburned cheeks, the mammoth hugs that make you feel like you are suffocating in love, my four-year-old self cannot help but feel hopeful about all their futures. Then, the devastating reality that many of them will not break the cycle of poverty hits me, and I wonder if I am making a difference at all.
I constantly struggled with this question during my stay. I finally came to the conclusion that while most of these kids probably will not be doctors, many will hopefully gain a better appreciation for the possibilities that the world has to offer. The cycle may not break with them, but if they instill those values into their own children, slowly but surely a new generation of leaders will emerge.
Class of 2013