Quick life update: things have been going great here! Day to day life has become normal and routine but of course there are still moments that are new or challenging all of the time. Classes are going well (yes, I do go to classes much to everyone’s surprise). Friendships are continuing to grow. I am changing through my experiences and know that I will not be coming back to the U.S. as the same person, but as someone who is more aware and adventurous. Life is good in Ecuador, friends.
This week I’d like to share with you all a bit more about my service learning placement. I’ve mentioned it before, but twice a week I volunteer at a daycare with the organization Fundación Extreme Response. Currently there are kids from 10 months old to 6 years old at the daycare and they are all children of men and women who work at the local dump.
Extreme Response is an international organization that gives humanitarian aid in places where the living situation is dangerous. This organization began at the Quito dump and has expanded to 11 other countries throughout the world to provide sustainable support to those in need.
In 1997 an American family that had been living in Ecuador saw that the Quito dump was incredibly dangerous and that it needed help. The focus of their aid was on the women and children that are affected by life at the dump. In 2001 Extreme Response became an official non-profit and has been expanding its work ever since.
One of the actions that Extreme Response took at the dump was opening a daycare so that the children whose parents worked at the dump weren’t exposed to the unsafe conditions there. At first the daycare was located at the dump, but in the last few years it was moved to a new separate location where I am a volunteer.
My job at the daycare is to play with the kids and, in my mind, to just love on them. Who knows what kind of care they receive when they go home at night or what kind of conditions they’re living in. They come from families who face poverty and who are outcasts by society’s standards. These kids come from backgrounds that are devastating, yet they are some of the most joyful children I’ve ever met. When I come to the daycare, they love to play and to feel affection, whether it’s being held or sitting on my lap, they want to be cared for. They are loving, energetic, and are unaware of all of the hardships that their families face.
I really love the daycare, even on the days when the kids don’t listen or I don’t understand things about how the daycare is run. There are definitely differences between this daycare and others that I have worked at in the U.S., but nonetheless it has been such a privilege to get to be a part of this organization. I love the kids, I love the employees, and I love that I get to serve the city that I’m living in.
Along with my placement I have a class at school where we talk about aspects of service learning such as leadership, ethics, and the types of social issues that Ecuadorians face. On our first day of class we talked about the idea of “voluntourism”, meaning when people go places to serve but it ends up being a tourist activity. I am guilty of this for sure. I’ve been on mission trips where we serve a community, but also have days to travel and see the tourist sites. While I think serving is so important and in no way do I regret my past experiences, it is something to be aware of. Also, serving should be about long term relationships and less about going in and temporarily solving problems. Long term stability is needed in places, such as the Quito dump, and that is exactly what Extreme Response is trying to achieve.
There are many complicated aspects to serving and doing it right is pretty difficult. However, I consider myself a pretty service-oriented person and find great importance in going out and helping those in need. So that’s a little insight on what my semester of service learning has entailed. Below is a link to Extreme Response’s website if you want to learn more about it (it’s a very cool organization, so you should!). My advice for you: get out, serve, build relationships with the marginalized and outcasts and the ones who need love. By serving, you end up being served and filled in ways that you didn’t even know you were in need of yourself.