Study Abroad

Viaje a Ecuador

May 19, 2018

Lasell students in EcuadorAfter a very long day of traveling from Boston, to Miami and then to Ecuador, we arrived at the Quito international airport at 9:16pm. Despite some complications with delays, luggage and the overall exhaustion often associated with a full day of flying, everyone's excitement for the coming 10 days was overwhelming. The bus ride to our first destination, just an hour outside Quito, was filled with laughter and a couple heated rounds of Uno. Unfortunately for us, it's very easy to burn out the entertainment of a single card game after an hour or so of playing, especially when a single round between seven people takes almost the entire hour for someone to claim victory.

The road to our destination was quite literally a bumpy one. Our bus climbed up a steep, winding shaky stone path to the farm in Pacha Mama, passing through a small town built into the rolling hills around us. The beauty of the farm was unlike anything we could have expected, with a greeting crew of five very friendly and excited dogs that protected the farm. I think it's fair to say that the student favorite was the massive but handsome, Garbanzo, who was big enough to ride into battle.

Lasell students in EcuadorThe farm itself opened up after a flower donned arch, that led the way to the garden in the courtyard, which was sprawling with beautiful trees, flowers and beautifully carved wooden benches. The house, a hostel when not filled with Lasell students, was a gorgeous ranch, that seemed to go on forever. Every corridor led to more and more rooms, with beautiful antique furnishings and decorations that added to the cozy rustic atmosphere. We all received ponchos to take with us on our journeys throughout Ecuador, and although it was late students crowded around the kitchen table for more games, icebreakers, and homemade snacks and tea so that we could get to know the strangers we were sharing this life changing experience with. I personally found that a group who hardly knew each other upon our arrival at the airport that morning, immediately built a strong connection and bond that foreshadowed our first labors success the next day when we began our service.

Our first official day in Ecuador was jam packed with work and learning. Before we sat for breakfast we learned how to grind wheat grain into flour, the dough made from that flower we turned into empanadas and croissants and then we hand ground fresh coffee beans to make our coffee that morning. Of course, being that we were on a dairy farm, we also had fresh yogurt with a sweet jam and oat cereal. After breakfast, we explored the surrounding farm grounds. We met a donkey who was a gluten for attention, cows and chickens. I think what was most noticeable from our first morning there was how different the atmosphere is in Ecuador than it is back home in America. All of the workers were ready to offer smiles and help, and always excited to speak with us (even if our Spanish was less than impressive). The farm gave off such a warm and relaxing mood, with all of It's beautiful views and welcoming people. It set us up to feel optimistic for the day ahead, the positivity helping to encourage even the shyest of the group to be open to conversations, meeting new people, and to take on the new and difficult tasks that we would be presented with.

The family we helped that day was headed by Marianita a craftswoman who built tiles and shingles literally from the salt of the earth. In all honesty, none of us really knew what to expect or what we were going to be doing that day. When we arrived the family was at work pounding chunks of dirt and rock into a flour like consistency, and drying out the dirt by moving it up with the soles of their bare feet. Without questioning students joined in. The work boots we had brought with the expectation that we would be working purely with our hands and needed feet protection were thrown to the side. We dug our bare feet into the rocky dirt and began helping sift the wet earth up so that other students could pound it into dust with wooden logs fashioned into tools and hoes. The people we worked with didn't need fancy tools or machines to do their work, they used their inventiveness and their bodies to turn dirt into clay, and we were blessed with the opportunity to witness and be apart of this process. As the day continued we only got dirtier, but also happier. We were adults playing in mud, but with a purpose. We drove a bull around the now mud made dirt by stomping around with him. Every student was enthusiastic to take on this task, calves deep in the soon to be ready clay. When we decided to let the bull (the family let us name him, so we called him Leroy) have a rest all of the students, our professors and our guide got together to stomp around in the mud, dancing to Spanish music as we finished grinding the dirt into the smoothest consistency we could manage.

Lasell students in Ecuador
Lasell students in Ecuador
Lasell students in Ecuador

We enjoyed a meal of chicken, corn, bread, cheese (fresh from the farm) and potatoes in cabbage leaves for lunch, played a game of keep up the ball with the family, before we got back to work to make the tiles and shingles. The work didn't end there, and although exhausted we were still enthusiastic when we made our way up the road to collect eucalyptus trees for the family's fires, and then later haul the baked tiles and shingles down to where the family stored them for future sale. When we arrived back at the farm we finished up our crazy day with dinner and cake to celebrate Daniel's birthday, and to reflect on our first experiences interacting with the community in Ecuador.

Lasell students working in Ecuador
Lasell students working in Ecuador
Lasell students working in Ecuador

Although the labor was hard, and definitely not something we were used to, the experience was an important one. I found that I was reminded of how much easier my own life back home is, and recognized the strength and perseverance of people who have very little but still manage to turn it into something big. Marianita's family was so grateful, so happy and so caring towards all of us. They didn't have a lot to give but they gave it in abundance, and in turn we helped turn what is normally a three day task for three people into a single day with the help of all thirteen students. I initially wondered if because we could only help for one day that it would diminish our impact or our actual help for the family. However, I think that they showed us that just because we didn't give money, or change their lives, we made a different long term impact by having that human connection. Despite a majority of us speaking little Spanish or non at all, we got to know the family and all the hard work they put in (and not complaining for a second about it, instead showing only happiness) and show them that we care, and lend a hand even if it was only for a day. I hope and think we will remember them, and the lessons they taught us especially as we move into our second day of service work.