Every year ASEA volunteers look forward to joining the Advancing Life Foundation for an extraordinary hands-on expedition. With past efforts focused on building the foundation of the Inta-Kara Advancing Life Center—a unique learning institute—in rural Ecuador, this year’s expedition began with enough work completed to see student enrollments just around the corner!
On Sunday, 14 July, Advancing Life expeditioners drove from Quito into the cloud forest to be greeted by the villagers of Pucara. The villagers performed traditional dances and included the expeditioners in a ritual to give gratitude to Mother Earth, who legend says would, in turn, provide the volunteers with good luck during the week of the project. The volunteers then met their host families in whose homes they would be staying.
From Monday through Thursday, volunteers worked on the center’s second building which will hold classrooms for students and a kitchen. The tasks for the week were to dig holes for the main support columns, create rebar forms for the footings and structural columns, and then level the ground for pouring the floor of the building. By the end of the week, three of the four sections of the floor had been poured and the holes and their structural columns were ready for their footings.
Volunteers worked each morning until lunch and then spent the afternoons participating in cultural events. One afternoon they learned how the locals process coffee beans, make sugar from sugar cane and make bread. On Wednesday afternoon, the volunteers had the opportunity to soak their tired muscles in nearby natural hot springs. It was a welcome retreat.
On Friday and Saturday, the volunteers bid farewell to the wonderful Ecuadorian families they had become so close to over the course of the expedition. Hugs were exchanged, and tears were shed as friendships recently formed were set to separate. Building relationships of love happens quickly when you are serving and working side by side to support the future of a community.
Expeditioners were able to support the local economy with some souvenir shopping at the Leather and handicraft market on their way out of town. They also enjoyed some of the local sites, including Laguna Cuicocha, Peguche waterfall, Condor Park, and the Middle of the Earth Museum.
On their last night together, a meaningful discussion took place regarding the lessons each volunteer had learned over the week. One of the common themes was the amazing sense of community that could be felt with the local people, how they cared for one another, and how happy they were.
Terry Latham posed the poignant question of “What is Poverty? These people are poor, but they are so happy. What is your poverty? We are all poor in some way, and perhaps it isn’t due to money, but we may be lacking in other ways.”
Volunteers left Ecuador changed, left with a better understanding of what creates happiness, which should be a priority in our lives, and they left Ecuador with connections they will never forget. How do you put into words the memories etched into their hearts forever?