With college behind me, I felt like this summer would be the opportune time for a new kind of adventure. Instead of dropping by a new city for a few days, or a new country for a few weeks, I decided to spend over a month in Ecuador. In addition, I aim to be more than just a tourist, spending four of my six weeks here volunteering with children through a local company, UBECI. This gives me a chance to understand the cultural differences and make an impact on a local issue.
Before arriving, I found it very difficult to describe the goal of UBECI, but after only a few days I already have a better grasp on the situation here. On the surface, UBECI acts as a free daycare system for people who work in local markets. We set up a few tents and spread out toys: playing, reading, singing, and dancing with the children that flood the area. Because many of these children have been pulled from school to help their families work, our program gives them a chance to pause and be a child again for a few hours. We often bring activities to help teach them basic skills, from letters and numbers to social skills that they don’t get from their specific situation. For children that ARE able to go to school, UBECI offers after school assistance with homework that the children wouldn’t get at home. Many of their parents dropped out of school at a young age and don’t know how to help with their classes. Finally, some children come from a hostile home, where frustrated adults drink to forget their troubles and take their anger out on the kids. UBECI offers these children warm hugs and words of encouragement, much needed affection in their lives.
Having visited both Peru and Costa Rica, the architectural situation in Ecuador is not unfamiliar to me, but it is still a drastic change from the areas I have lived in previously. Even within Quito, I am staying in the southern, less developed, area. The markets as well are not unfamiliar, but this is the first time I have interacted with local people on such a personal level.
To help give you a picture…
We set up tents off to the side of the market, but the smells of overripe fruit and un-refrigerated meat still reach us. Women from the market bring their children and drop them off with us. One girl walks among the volunteers, making sure to plant a kiss on each cheek in greeting. Not long after sitting down, a child finds their way to my lap. We do some puzzles, and read books in fragmented Spanish. You encourage them to share, to be kind to one another, and discourage negative behaviors. After a while, everyone gets up to sing and dance, before its time to leave. The volunteers are asked to escort each child back to their family by the hand.
It’s not much, but it focuses on the earlier stages of the problems with the lack of education, and UBECI doesn’t stop here. The organization works with each of the families personally, collecting donations to help send children to school when their parents can’t afford supplies. We, the volunteers, are asked to watch for bruises on the children, in case they are being mistreated at home.
So far my involvement has been kind of slow to start, but its been heartwarming to interact with these kids. I’m excited for the next few weeks… as well as the adventures to come. 🙂