Hannah, Ecuador

Hannah is a junior President’s Scholar majoring in political science in Dedman College and accounting in the Cox School, with a minor in Spanish. In spring 2012, she is in Quito, Ecuador, with BCA and SMU Abroad to study international politics, economic development, and social justice in Latin America.

Last week in Ecuador

The city of Banos

This weekend marked my last “fin de semana” in Ecuador …. cannot believe I will be back in America on THURSDAY!!

For one last hoorah, we decided to go to Baños – a city in Ecuador known for its adventure sports. On Saturday we spent the day exploring the city and then took a chiva ride (imagine a big truck with open sides that carries about 30 people) up to the top of the nearby volcano. Sunday morning, I finally got to go puenting. Much to the dismay of my mom, I had been planning on doing this thrilling activity for a while but never seemed to get the courage.

Getting ready for the leap

Puenting is similar to bungee jumping but uses a regular rope instead of an elastic chord. Instead of bouncing after the free fall, you swing back and forth like a pendulum until you are lowered to the ground below.

After seeing the bridge and the river below, I seriously considered backing out; after the jump, though, I was very happy I followed through. The experience was amazing and a great way to start off my final week in Quito.

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Sharing s’mores in Ecuador

Last night, a few friends decided to make dinner for one of our host families….the result was a great night of friends, family, and lots of laughs. We made chicken & noodles, cream corn, and mashed potatoes (many thanks to our native Indiana girl for the “soul food” recipes). We also made s’mores – which were completely new to our Ecuadorian friends. Apparently they liked them! Those are the times I’m going to miss the most…not quite ready to leave all these amazing people.

 

 

 

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Old friends, new encouragement

This past weekend was possibly the highlight of my experience in Ecuador. It was not quite as exciting as a trip to the Galapagos or the Amazon rainforest, but it was definitely an encouraging and beautiful opportunity.

Almost three years ago, I came to Ecuador for the first time with my high school youth group to help out with a summer Bible camp in Tena. We stayed at a small jungle camp for the first few days and then made our way to the main location of the ministry – Camp Chacauco in Patate, Ecuador. Those few days in Ecuador and the amazing camp staff stole my heart in just a short time, and I believe they are very much responsible for my decision to return to this country for a full semester of study abroad.

This past weekend, I was given the incredible blessing to return to Camp Chacauco and it captured my heart once again.

One of my friends from the BCA program accompanied me on the trip as we left Quito saturday morning. After a 3-hour bus ride, we made our way to Pelileo, where a few members of the camp staff picked us up. Just a short drive later, I was standing back at the beautiful camp – complete with breathtaking views of the Tungurahua volcano.

Brother Steve, the missionary who came to Ecuador over 20 years ago and built the camp, gave us a tour of Chacauco as he explained all the blessings and challenges that occurred since my visit three years ago. We walked through all the camp dormitories, saw the framework being constructed for the new Seminary building (absolutely amazing), and finally made our way to the cabins before heading to dinner.

Since there was a children’s retreat that weekend, we got to spend a few minutes playing with the kids as well. Dinner was truly such a surprise; I was hoping to see some of the same staff and old friends from before, but I did not expect to spend the evening eating with them and hearing all their wonderful stories. They were so hospitable and treated us as family the entire weekend, and I was honestly overwhelmed by their kindness.

On Sunday morning, Brother Steve gave us a special opportunity to accompany him to a few churches in the area. At the first stop, we attended Sunday School at a small church just outside Patate. The pastor was Chilean, so I couldn’t catch all the meaning due to his accent but I felt like I generally understood the message.

Our second destination, however, was truly an unforgettable experience. Steve and two other sweet members of the staff took us about an hour outside the town to a tiny indigenous community called Apatug. Prior to the 1990s, this small community was entirely Catholic (more of a political title than a faith commitment) and survived solely on agricultural products.

In 1988, however, 11 members of the community decided to follow Christ after hearing the gospel preached in a nearby town. The religious tension between the new evangelicals and the traditionally Catholic leaders grew so hostile that the new Christians were removed from the community’s co-ops and eventually humiliated publicly in order to denounce their belief. When the group refused to denounce Christ, they were further persecuted with beatings and torture.

Over time, the group continued to grow despite persecution and slowly regained standing in the community as children of the local leaders began to follow Christ and therefore influence their entire family. Today, the Christian church has over 200 members and works closely with Steve at Camp Chacauco to provide worship services and Bible lessons to anyone willing to attend.

Brother Steve was serving as a guest pastor at the church last Sunday, so we were able to accompany him to the community for the church service. The experience was phenomenal. We watched as members of the church performed traditional dances in indigenous dress and then listened as they sang hymns and worshiped in Kichwa (the indigenous language of Ecuador). Several members of the congregation came up to welcome us and offer big smiles despite the language barrier – most older members of the community only speak Kichwa, not Spanish. The whole service was so centered on Christ and the community’s unceasing faith; I couldn’t help but be humbled simply by standing among them.

After church, we received a short tour around the town (including lots of pig sightings) and finally made our way back towards Ambato to catch a bus home to Quito. Along the way, we tried some of Saucedo’s famous ice cream and saw more beautiful scenery. It was an amazing weekend with old friends and lots of new encouragement, prayer, and worship. I could not ask for a better way to spend one of my final weeks in Ecuador. It’s hard to believe that I will be back in the USA in only 2.5 more weeks!

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Quilatoa

A few pictures from our group excursion to Quilatoa, a volcano south of Quito. The entire area is gorgeous, and visitors are able to hike down the volcano in order to visit the lake that formed at the bottom of the crater. The hike down was fairly quick, but the trek back up to the top was quite an experience. Definitely provided some beautiful views though!

 

 

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Ready for some futbol

Cheering on the Barcelona team at the futbol stadium.

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Lumbisi

Once again, I am quite behind on the blog. So, in order to catch y’all up I am going to start with a few adventures that actually happened last week.

On Friday the 13th, I was lucky enough to tag along with two friends to their volunteer locations. The first destination was a small school in Quito (only about 20 minutes from my host home) at which my friend has been volunteering throughout the entire semester. As an education major, she is infinitely more qualified to teach and help the kids, but I had a great time just chatting with them and observing the general education system at the school.

Things are a bit more chaotic (that seems to be a pretty common theme here in Ecuador), but the students were all so lively and eager to practice a few English vocabulary words.

After a short visit at the school, we met up with another fellow BCA student to take a bus towards Lumbisi, a small rural town about an hour from Quito. Lumbisi is an indigenous community as well as one of the poorest areas surrounding the city of Quito, so I was curious to explore and visit the FEVI foundation. This foundation is an incredible organization that provides all sorts of support for the community including a primary school, a soup kitchen for the eldest members of the town, and a community garden program.

We were able to spend some time with the kids at the school (there are two separate locations, one for preschool and another for elementary), and it was a blast. Again, lots of chaos and excitement…the young boys seem to constantly be in fist fights and discipline is a whole different concept for the teachers who are simply trying to maintain a basic level of order.

We asked one of the school directors which aspect of education was most important, and I thought his answer was interesting. He claimed that playtime is by far the most critical: The kids seem to constantly be in recess, but he explained that this is important for them to learn the critical social skills of the community. Most of the kids playing on the swings or chasing each other around the yard are not going to become doctors, lawyers, or business execs; they are going to become moms, dads, and important members of the local community. He believed that they do not need technical skills or high-level education but rather a system that teaches them ethics, respect, and family responsibility. The school’s goal is simply to use its minimal resources to equip the kids as much as possible for reality.

After our morning at the school, we made our way to the soup kitchen in Lumbisi to serve lunch to some of the elders of the town. A few women prepared the meal (they were experts at cooking for a large group in the most efficient way possible), and we helped serve the men and women waiting at the tables. They were all so incredibly appreciative, and each one made sure to thank us multiple times. It was such a sweet opportunity to help in just a very small way, not to mention a unique visit to an interesting part of the city.

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Futbol, brownies and goodbyes

With friends in QuitoThese past two weeks have flown by as I turned in midterm papers and finished up all sorts of projects before the break for Semana Santa. This past weekend, then, was my opportunity to rest a bit before starting term papers and final exam preparation, and it was a very welcome time of relaxation and fun with my friends and family here in Quito.

Liga futbol in EcuadorLast Wednesday evening, I attended my first Liga futbol game, a crucial experience necessary to complete any successful visit to Ecuador. The game ended in a tie (that was a little anticlimactic I suppose), but our group of BCA students had a great time and I made sure to purchase a Liga jersey before leaving the stadium.

Though the futbol game was exciting, I have to admit that the highlight of last week was Thursday night’s baking extravaganza. A few girls from my study abroad program came over to my host family’s home to make brownies, Oreo-stuffed chocolate chip cookies, and no-bake oatmeal cookies (I had never even heard of those before, but they were definitely a success).

Baking nightThe whole baking process in general was a slight mess for various reasons. First, the oven…. The ovens in Ecuador do not have any sort of preheating mechanism, nor do they even show a temperature. You simply light the flame and you’re ready to go. Needless to say, this makes setting the oven to 350 degrees a little tricky. My family was wonderful though and helped us out with the technical details, and I feel like the results were generally pleasing to everyone. It was a great night to just spend with good friends, and it made me so incredibly thankful for the friendships that have formed here in the last few months.

With friends of the familySaturday was a bittersweet day for my host family because we said goodbye to some wonderful friends. For the past two weeks, we had two important visitors living with us. The two boys (both of which were from Switzerland) were friends of the family, and one actually lived with my family as an exchange student 6 years ago. They brought a lot of life to the house, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to get to know them in the short time they were here. Before their departure on Saturday, my family went to lunch near Mitad del Mundo and enjoyed a perfect afternoon full of good memories and lots of laughs. The pictures speak for themselves…they’re a fun group and it was sad to see the boys head back home.

We said our goodbyes at the airport, and it was a strange feeling to realize that I will be back in that airport saying my own goodbyes in just 6 more weeks. I have experienced so much personal growth and change here in Ecuador, and it’s hard to believe that the whole trip will be over so soon. The thought brings excitement (I’m definitely ready to see friends and family again) but also some sadness (I’m not quite ready to leave the mountains and people of Quito).

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Postcards from Coca

A few photos from my class trip to Coca, a petroleum town in the Amazon. A group of environmental activists from an organization called Angel Shingre took us on a “Toxic Tour” to show us some of the catastrophic effects of mining, African palm plantations, and petroleum sites in the area. We visited several of the extraction sites and spoke with local families who have been affected by the oil contamination.

Visiting homes affected by contamination

Petroleum sites

Hiking in the jungle to see oil deposits

Petroleum extraction platform

An oil testing well

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Week Eleven

It’s been a little while since I posted, so I’m actually going to start with a few things from a week ago to catch y’all up. As hard as it is to believe, the previous week was number 11 in my stay here, and the time is only moving faster.

Week #11 brought all sorts of new experiences, the highlight of which was my participation in the university’s Model UN conference March 16-18. I have to admit, I was dreading the whole thing and was plenty nervous to debate foreign policy with so many new peers and unfamiliar faces. The result of the weekend, however, was lots of new friendships and some great memories. The Model UN program at Universidad San Francisco is an amazing thing, and the members of the main team are extremely well trained in international affairs and the processes of the United Nations. The Ecuadorian students, however, were all very patient with the international students and were helpful throughout the entire weekend. I was constantly amazed by their language abilities – most students speak perfect Spanish, English, and either German or French. They are informed about world politics, and they carry themselves well in public speeches.

Though I wasn’t always the most successful in the actual Model UN (we were simulating the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and I was the delegate from Burkina Faso…not exactly a lot of political power there), I definitely learned a lot and left the weekend with a better understanding of the way the International Relations program works at the university.

The week following the conference was a busy one, complete with lots of essays and presentations. I am not used to writing such frequent papers, but I am really enjoying the change of pace and different approach to education in some of my classes. My professors are far more liberal than those at SMU, my classmates have completely different worldviews, and my reading lists are frequently in another language – I can’t think of a better way to challenge myself and improve my understanding of the world.

The past few days I also tried to take a little more time just to walk around my neighborhood and get to know this city better. Oftentimes I feel like we travel so much that I don’t really get to know the community around me, so it was refreshing to take time to explore the local area. I’ve met fascinating people and seen a part of Ecuador that most tourists miss, and it is a great privilege to experience another country in this way. I honestly couldn’t be happier with my time in Quito, and I am so grateful for this unique approach to study abroad.

The final part of my week that is definitely worth sharing is my new volunteer experience at Ganas – an orphanage in the historic center of Quito that is home to more than 40 children whose parents are currently in prison or some sort of detention center. I was fortunate enough to meet a husband/wife team of missionaries (from Texas! small world) at my church a few weeks ago, and they invited me to come along with them to work at Ganas and to check out what God is doing at this ministry. The experience was amazing, and I am already looking forward to going back. Next week is our spring break (here it is technically a holiday for Semana Santa), so I will be traveling to the coast for 4 days before returning to Quito for the last 5 days of break. During that second half of the week, I am hoping to spend my mornings and afternoons at Ganas. It will be a great way to get to know the kids and a fun way to spend the remainder of the break before I return to term papers, final exams, and presentations.

I hope to update on week 12 soon (and my trip to the Amazon to witness the effects of petroleum extraction). Until then, que le vaya bien!

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Postcards from Cuenca

A few photos from my weekend trip to Cuenca, a beautiful city in the south of Ecuador as well as an UNESCO World Heritage site. We witnessed an anti-mining protest, saw some incredible churches, ate a lot of wonderful food, visited lots of markets, and just loved the place in general.

Plaza Rotary Market

Delicious lunch

The march

Flower market

Some awesome scenery on the way home

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