As you can probably guess based on the general theme of my posts, this week has brought even more unexpected adventures and challenges. The results, though, have been wonderful as usual. This past week, I began volunteering at two different locations in Ecuador, both of which offer a completely different type of learning experience and a great opportunity to serve alongside some truly talented and compassionate people.
On Friday morning, I made my way to Para Sus Niños, a small orphanage operated by an American couple who came to Ecuador as missionaries. The trip to Carcelen (where the orphanage is located) required two buses, a taxi ride, and some walking…needless to say, I got lost a few times (typical) and was a bit exhausted by the time I actually arrived at the front gates.
A security guard at the entrance asked me for my volunteer info, signed me in, and then pointed toward a tiny house. I’m pretty sure he said something about babies, but at that point my Spanish brain was beyond functioning. When I opened the door to the main room, I immediately knew what he was talking about: I had been assigned to the infant care area. Ten children, all under the age of 6 months, were crying and demanding lunch as I tried to figure out where exactly I was supposed to go for this whole ordeal. I was so impressed with the women working in the house (all of whom are referred to as “tia,” or aunt). What could have been complete chaos was instead an organized routine in which each baby was fed, held, and then settled down for a nap.
The entire experience was humbling for me. I played with one of the baby boys for a while while some of the older women prepared bottles of formula and tiny bowls of soup. As an only child, I have to admit that I don’t exactly have a ton of sibling experience or much expertise when it comes to small kids, so the lunch process was a bit rocky at first. Luckily, my little friend seemed to be hungry and quite content to just stare at me as he gobbled down his food. When tears looked at all possible, I quickly learned that the chance to play with my bracelets was an instant crowd pleaser. Who knew those things could be so important?
My favorite part of my time at the orphanage, though, was the faith shown in every intricate detail of the day. The name Para Sus Niños (For His Children) refers to the way God cares for, loves, and provides for His children in this world. The entire staff at the orphanage cares for these kids because they believe each child is uniquely and wonderfully made by God, and this shows in the way things are done. Before each meal and before nap time, the “tias” and volunteers pray over each baby – to bless them, care for them, and ask that they would grow up to love their creator and understand His love for them. I couldn’t ask for a better place to spend my Friday afternoon.
If you’d like to check out the organization, here’s a quick link to their website: www.forhischildren-ecuador.org. They have an amazing child sponsorship program, and I would highly encourage you to check it out if you have the financial ability to do such a thing. So many times I feel like I turn down the opportunity to donate to various groups because I never really know where the money will go, how it will be used, etc. I can tell you that I’ve seen this place for myself, and it is worthy of every cent.
I’m sorry for the length of this post, but I’d really like to share a bit about the other place where I will be volunteering this semester. This Monday, I had my first day of service at Fundacion AM-EN, an equestrian stable that specializes in equine therapy for children with Down’s Syndrome and other types of special needs. This place is incredible, but of course, the journey to actually make it to the barn was quite the trip. I awoke at 5:15 a.m. last Monday in order to make it to the first bus stop by 6 a.m., took a bus to the central Rio Coca station, caught another bus to Cumbaya Valley, and then took an additional bus ride down to Tumbaco – about 30 minutes past my university.
I had received instructions from the foundation’s director to get off the bus at one of the main gas stations in Tumbaco, where someone would be waiting to drive me to the stable. Per usual, the bus did not stop at this gas station so I had a bit of an unexpected hike back to the correct intersection, but I managed to make it to the gas station by 7:40. By 7:55, I was kind of nervous that I had missed my shuttle service at 7:45, so I began to ask questions around the gas station. One helpful lady informed me that I was one street away from the pick up location, so I made my way over to the meeting place.
Five minutes later, an Ecuadorian man in a small jeep pulled up in his car filled with mothers and their children ready for horseback riding lessons. I was told to jump in the back, and we were off. After another 15 minutes down a dirt road (at this point I had no idea where I was…I’m starting to get used to that feeling), we finally arrived at the stable.
The location is beyond beautiful – the barn is set in the bottom of a deep valley next to a river surrounded by trees, vines, and some type of pretty red flowers. I wandered around for a minute or two and then finally asked what exactly I was supposed to be doing. The main man in charge of the horses asked me if I had any experience working with horses. I confidently assured him that I knew what I was doing, and then stared blankly at him when he handed me two ropes and pointed towards the river. Apparently, there were horses down there and it was my job to figure out how to get them.
After a few minutes of climbing down into the water, I discovered my targets, wrapped the ropes around them, and led them to the barn. At this point, I began to meet some of the other volunteers – two girls from Sweden, two girls from Germany, and a younger man from the Western coast of Ecuador. Needless to say, we are quite a diverse group and the conversation is always interesting (and a bit confusing…the Spanish language combined with European accents and an American accent can get pretty jumbled). The other men that work with the horses immediately demanded to check out my cowboy boots and had about a thousand questions about life in Texas – known here as the land of Walker, Texas Ranger. Seriously, everyone loves that show. My family would fit right in.
When the horses were ready to go, taxis and a school bus began to arrive with children for the therapy program. From 8:30 until 11:30, we worked with about 30 kids, and it was an absolute blast. It’s amazing to see how they interact with the horses, and their parents are so incredibly grateful to watch their son or daughter participate in such a unique activity. The horses are all very quiet and calm, so they do a great job of taking care of their little riders. Although, the horse I was leading did have a certain affinity for biting my leg…I was later told that they gave me that horse to see if I was telling the truth about working with horses in the past. Great.
Once all the kids were on their way back home, the rest of the volunteers and I unsaddled the horses, cleaned out the stalls, and fed the animals. In case you are curious, when an Ecuadorian tells you to get the corn to feed the horses, they are not referring to a bag of horse feed or corn kernels; they literally mean the 100-pound bundle of corn stalks that are stacked somewhere behind the barn. And the horses will probably be roaming about in the arena, so be prepared to be attacked as you drag the corn stalks through the barn. I learn so many new things here every day.
If you would like to check out this organization, here’s a link to their website as well (you can choose to change the page to English in the top left corner): www.fundacion-amen.org.
Well, thanks for taking the time to read all the way through this…I hope it gives you a better idea of how I spend my days here in Ecuador, and I am excited to keep learning at both Para Sus Ninos and Fundacion AM-EN.