2019 Ecuador Expedition Offers Villagers & Volunteers a Life-Changing Experience

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?

Advancing Life Volunteers Share Heartwarming Stories from Cotacachi, Ecuador

Now in its third year, the work of ASEA Advancing Life in Cotacachi, Ecuador, continued this summer with the first of 2019’s two expedition groups making an unforgettable impact in June. The volunteers who aided in the building of a vocational campus furthered progress toward the end goal of training local villagers with skills for a brighter future.

Between digging drainage for the local soccer field and visitor lodging, digging the foundation for the vocational campus kitchen, meeting with future students of the school, and helping out locals at their sugar cane and guinea pig farms, the volunteers were proud to experience the everyday life of villagers and learn as much as they could for future expeditions.

Several volunteers offered personal stories about how meaningful the experience was for them. Andrea Ortiz says that her host family treated her like one of their own, from greeting her every morning with a smile, accompanying her to and from the worksites, and engaging in wonderful conversations with her in the evenings.

“One night I didn’t get back from work until around 10 pm and the father of my host family was waiting for me on the front porch,” Andrea remembers. “He said he was worried about me being out so late and wanted to wait up until I arrived home safely. He was essentially acting like my dad. This family meant a lot to me because they had recently lost their mother and yet gave so much to me despite the fact that they are still in mourning and they did it all with a smile.”

Lucas Jensen was another volunteer who noticed how cheerful and happy to assist the locals were.

“I was really excited to hang out with my friends and fellow volunteers from the ASEA corporate office,” says Lucas. “But what I really loved was working with the people in the village. People would follow and then jump on the bus to help us. And they were with us, every day, side by side helping us get all the work done.”

“They would talk about the pride they had in their country and their village and how excited they were to help us construct the building for the vocational school. It’s a beautiful thing to see how the Advancing Life Foundation is helping strengthen the economy in this area. We were running up the mountain with wheelbarrows of cement, rocks, and bricks and we were exhausted. It was really hard work but the locals were helping us the entire time.”

Zach Jackson was another volunteer on this particular expedition who says his favorite day of the trip was playing frisbee with a local school kid for forty minutes. He says it’s the simple things that really made him appreciate the experience.

“The biggest thing I took away from this trip is that we don’t appreciate what we have,” says Zach. “These people have next to nothing and they are still so happy and grateful every day.”