Settling Into the Volunteer Project in Lumbisi
As Greenheart Travel’s Volunteer Abroad Correspondent in Ecuador, I am spending three weeks working in Lumbisí, a native community outside of Quito. A brand new experience, but I had plenty of time to prepare for it. Having traveled around Ecuador for a week before the start of my program, I felt comfortable in the country and didn’t have much adjusting to do.
First, I learned how to take local public transportation and made sure to always carry pocket change – sueltos – because breaking bills on a bus might be impossible. I had also become accustomed to Ecuadorian Spanish (I found it quite easy to understand, as Ecuadorians generally have a clear pronunciation), and knew what to expect food-wise. And finally, Quito’s altitude of 9,300 feet above sea level was no longer causing me breathing problems. There was no doubt that I would miss home, but once I arrived in Lumbisí, I was in good shape and ready to work.
Learning the ropes
I didn’t have to wait long to start the assignment. A representative from the FEVI Foundation, Greenheart Travel’s partner in Quito, met me in the morning at my host family’s house. She showed me around town and took on a tour of current projects. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by toddlers in a day care center, where I was assigned to help out.
The facility cares for children between ages one and three, about 30-40 total. The first day of work was short – I met the teachers, played with the kids for a while, and assisted in serving meals. I was trying to learn names and see which children would make a connection with me. Soon a few of them did. I guess you can’t go wrong with building towers and playing ball.
The next few days were spent getting used to the routine. I alternated between classrooms, gradually helping out with more tasks and interacting with more children. I enjoyed our little conversations – about my name, what they like to play, their favorite toys – and seeing them laugh when I took them on the swings. At times I was the one comforting them when they fell or were missing mom. It felt good to bond with them in such a short time.
When I came to Ecuador, I wanted to make a meaningful contribution to the community and improve my Spanish. But I quickly noticed a few unexpected perks.
My favorite part of the project, besides being around the kids, has been spending time outdoors. On the way to work I get to see the Andes Mountains and, if not covered by clouds, the Cotopaxi Volcano. The same stunning views extend from the day care’s yard. Sometimes I stop to look or take pictures – otherwise I might not believe it’s all real.
I’ve also realized that I’m more patient than I thought. Working with little children, who tend to cry and fuss a lot, you learn to deal with situations in a calm manner. A skill I can use with adults too…
And as far as language learning, I knew I’d benefit from conversations with my host family, but I didn’t expect much from exposure to day care Spanish. Yet, I have picked up substantial vocabulary, mostly from listening to the teachers.
All that after just one week…