Henry was a classmate of mine when we studied abroad in Seville, Spain. He has recently returned from a life-changing year abroad in Ecuador, volunteering with children. Here is what he has to share about his experiences there:
1. Where are you from?
Buffalo, New York
2. What made you decide to volunteer abroad and which program did you volunteer with?
I volunteered with a program named Rostro de Cristo. During my time at Villanova, I never took advantage of all of the service opportunities that were offered, and I definitely regretted it. When senior year came along, I started looking into opportunities for volunteering after graduation. That’s when I went to a volunteer fair at my school and met two former volunteers from Rostro. I could tell that they were so excited to share their experience with me, and that it had definitely been something that they had absolutely no regrets in doing. After hearing their stories, I knew that it was definitely something that I could see myself doing.
3. Did Rostro de Cristo place you in Ecuador or did you choose the location?
Rostro de Cristo is a foundation that specifically works with the marginalized people of Ecuador. The two volunteer houses right now are in Mount Sinai and Arbolito, two impoverished neighborhoods outside of Guayaquil.
4. What did a typical day look like for you?
In the mornings I would wake up at around 8 or 8:30, depending on when the roosters outside were the most active (a joke…kind of). After taking care of some things in our house, I would head out into the community to visit some neighbors. I was living in a house with 7 other volunteers, and each of us had a worksite that we would spend half of our day at.
The rest of our time, ideally, was spent accompanying our neighbors through their day-to-day struggles and joys. This was our mission…”to walk alongside the people of Ecuador.” Sooo, in the mornings I would spend time with these neighbors, getting to know them. I would play Jenga with kids, help them with homework, or just sit and converse with these families. Almost everyday these families would give me lunch, and their hospitality really touched me.
Later in the afternoon, at 2, I would head to work. I was a volunteer at an after school program, so for two hours I would help the kids with homework and study for their exams. At 4, if they behaved, they would have recess for 1 hour and we would play soccer and tag. If I wasn’t cooking duty after work, I would spend the rest of my afternoon with my community or the other volunteers.
At our summer camp, field trip, with the soccer club. We were all given 6 minutes to build a teepee with whatever materials we could find.
5. What age level did you work with?
The kids were anywhere from 5-14 years of age.
6. Have you worked with children in education in the past?
Not even close! They taught me a lot to say the least.
7. What was that like working with severely impoverished children?
Beautiful but also heart breaking at the same time. Aside from seeing these kids every single afternoon, I also got to spend some mornings doing “house visits” where we would check in on how they were doing at home. This was really powerful for me because it helped me to connect the dots. If there was a kid who was very needy or severely misbehaving, it helped me to have the knowledge of context that these kids were living in. Throughout the year, I learned about many heartbreaking situations that these kids were going through. A lot of them were forced to grow up a lot faster than any child should ever have to. They are so resourceful and street smart, and they taught me so much.
Since there were over 80 children, and sometimes not much assistance, there were some days that were difficult because I felt like no one was listening to me. I could never stay mad for long, though. At the end of the day, kids would always hug me goodbye and tell me “gracias profe”. They were just like any other kid who wants to play and have fun, but unfortunately their reality didn’t always give them those opportunities.
8. What is your favorite part of the job?
Getting to know all of the kids and their families. There were so many amazing people in the community that I was living in, and they truly touched me with how they accepted me. I was constantly invited to dinner with these families, especially at the end of my year. I could tell how grateful these parents were for our work with their children. By the end of the year, I felt as if I had 80 little siblings, and every day I was greeted with tackles disguised as hugs from all of them as I climbed up the hill to the school.
9. What is your least favorite part of the job?
Being in such an impoverished part of Ecuador, there was definitely a lack of resources which at times was frustrating. Sometimes there wouldn’t even be paper…at an after school program. This was hard to get used to, especially in the beginning…but that’s poverty, and we had to do what we could with what we had.
10. Do you have a favorite Spanish word or phrase your pupils used?
Llave, which in Ecuador and other Latin American countries means “good friend, trusted person” (also..key). I would always call the kids this, and for an added spice, they would say “llavecita.”
11. Are you going to volunteer again? What’s your next step after such an eye-opening year?
I’m going to continue volunteering, but only part time. I’m looking into signing up for BigBrotherBigSister in my city. Right now, I’m processing all that happened in Ecuador and spending some time with my family and friends. This year helped me realize that I need to continue working in something that will be meaningful to others, and therefore myself.
This year helped me realize just how blessed I have been in my 23 years of life. I won the genetic lottery, and the majority of the world’s population didn’t. The majority of the world is living in conditions like those in Monte Sinai, Ecuador. We are the exception, not them. Learning these things has definitely changed a lot of my perspectives, and I hope to continue working in a non-profit (here or abroad…) or other organization working to improve the lives of others in some way. General…I know…(hence “processing”:))
With the rest of my community and our guard (center). Taken at our end of the year goodbye party.
12. What was your favorite part of living in Ecuador?
The people. Despite the constant injustices and struggles that the people in our community face everyday, they have a spirit that is so lively and beautiful. They are so full of life and taught me so much about how one should go about each day and treat each other. That…and playing soccer every day.
13. What advice would you give a prospective volunteer with Rostro de Cristo?
I would tell a prospective volunteer that doing a volunteer in Ecuador with Rostro de Cristo was the best decision I have ever made. Although there were some days I missed my family and friends, I never regretted it, not even once. Looking back on this year I have grown a lot, and the values and perspectives that I have acquired have changed me for the better. To a prospective volunteer asking “Why should i do a volunteer year?” I would respond, “why not..?”
Thank you so much, Henry! 🙂
If you would like to read more about Henry’s experience volunteering in Ecuador, check out his blog, Ecuadorian Hank: https://ecuadorianhank.wordpress.com/
If you are a volunteer, language assistant, or English teacher abroad and would like to participate in an interview, let me know via the contact tab!
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