After much fundraising and preparation, 30 selfless humanitarians set off to Quito, Ecuador with the Advancing Life Foundation and CHOICE Humanitarian to build a vocational school for the struggling Intag region. The trip was more than a year and a half in the making.
With a mixture of excitement and anticipation, the group spent their first day learning about Ecuador with a trip to its namesake, the equator, and a large handmade craft market. In the evening, to fully appreciate the country’s diverse scenery, the group turned in near a lake overlooking the Imbabura volcano for the first night.
Day two ushered in a busy itinerary where guests would meet their host families, experience the culture in welcome performances from local villagers, and shake hands with government officials. The dancing and laughter was the beginning of a weeklong bond between volunteers and villagers.
As the sun rose on day three, the hard work of building the vocational school began. The task at hand for our first expedition group was building a 100-meter (328-foot) fence along the perimeter of the school. The work was grueling and required everyone to be in tune with one another to get things done in a short time. All the while, our volunteers stayed focused and humble as they worked alongside locals.
Michael Auras from ASEA’s European office shared, “Working next to an 84-year-old man and a group of young boys showed me how grateful locals of all ages are for the vision of the Advancing Life Foundation and the way the vocational school will improve things in Ecuador for generations to come.”
Some of these young boys, ninth-grade students, drove from a school over an hour away to help with the project, with the hopes that one day they might have the opportunity to attend the vocational school and take their education further than they ever thought possible.
As work on the fence progressed, so did volunteers’ relationships with the people they were working with.
“The interaction was not always easy,” expressed Michael, “but we shared signs and gestures of encouragement, appreciation, love, sympathy, and support. When communicating with these wonderful people, a smile and a hug was the purest expression of unity and sympathy—no words, just understanding on a higher level.”
Participants also had opportunities outside of building to interact with the community. Women and girls of the surrounding towns gathered for some education on feminine hygiene, and they were supplied with reusable personal-care packs.
Sandy Mott from ASEA U.S. corporate office loved this experience. “We painted finger nails, jumped rope, laughed and learned,” she said. “It was so sweet to see how quickly they trusted us and wanted to get to know us. Even without speaking Spanish, we made a significant connection!”
On day four, CHOICE Humanitarian arranged a special celebration for the elderly in the community, which turned out to be quite the side-splitting experience. Just picture Sandy and one of the seniors trying to pop a balloon sandwiched between their bellies as they danced!
Between the dancing and the games, volunteers and the locals were grinning ear to ear. Each senior was given a special gift as a token of appreciation and gratitude for their stewardship in Quito. Hugs and laughter were exchanged freely as the music carried the night away.
Kim Larsen, chair of the Advancing Life Foundation, said, “It’s humbling to know that, because of the advantages we’ve had, we are able to broaden horizons through the donation of time and resources. We can’t even grasp the importance of this one school and how it will continue to empower and create change for these people here.”
Kim believes that this center will be the model for other rural vocational centers in rural areas of Ecuador. She explained, “We have peaked the interest by many levels of government who will keep a close eye on the impact of this school.”
The work continued on the perimeter fence. Brick loads were hauled from place to place, large rocks were moved and removed, hills were summited, and trenches dug.
As the volunteers labored away with the diligent villagers, Michael observed, “They are a powerful people, with a capacity beyond what they can imagine themselves. But when we worked hard along with them, it was amazing how easy they caught fire, were interested, were inspired, and how they started to look beyond what was their perceived horizon.”
Experiences like this have a way of bonding people together and refocusing their perspectives. Michael, for instance, walked away knowing, “it only takes one person; it only takes a very small effort and a simple act of kindness to give hope to others.”
ASEA and The Advancing Life Foundation would like to extend a special thank-you to CHOICE Humanitarian, our volunteers, and all of our generous donors who made this trip possible. The second group of volunteers for this expedition leaves soon, and we can’t wait to continue the progress that’s already been achieved with our dear friends in Quito.