Friday, July 12, 2013

Forever grateful for the love and kindness

Today is Friday, our last day at the center working with the children and staff of Calderón, and our last day working together as a team. At breakfast we talked about what we were going to do today and reviewed the words to "Te Quiero Yo," the Barney song "I Love You", which we appropriated to represent our feelings toward the people we are serving in Ecuador. At the team meeting, Tom read a moving poem by a cancer survivor that helped remind us what we are doing and why we are here and Seija read her journal entry, which included reflections of her extended stay in Ecuador. The team, already feeling the bittersweet reality of ending a successful mission and facing saying goodbye to our hosts, were equally moved by Seija's emotional writing. On the bus to Calderón, we practiced "Te Quiero Yo" several times while I did my best to play the chords on the charango, and our driver, Fabián (the husband of Pilar, a key member of our host organization, FUNDAC), tried to keep his eyes on other cars, buses, and trucks as they dashed in and out of traffic with abandon. 

We arrived late at the center, with the children having already eaten their breakfast. Being Friday, many children were home with their families; Katie was a bit disappointed to find that there were only four kids in Tía Alexandra's class. Tom started his day as usual, with a task list that included more to do than any person would be able to accomplish in one day. Today he started by finding examples of screws he needed Maggie to buy at the hardware store. (Maggie has become quite the hardware shopper, by the way, while supporting an array of Global Volunteer projects.) Seija reported to Ruby's classroom and proceeded as she did every other day, proactively helping the children move from task to task with a mix of fun and precision; one might hear her chanting, "uno, dos, tres, cuatro" with the kids as they literally marched to the bathroom. After going on a brief shopping mission in the local commercial area, Suzanne resumed working in Tía Gaby's class and I made my way to the kitchen.

The morning proceeded like any other morning at the center with the exception of the tías obviously making preparations for our final celebration and the tías in the kitchen making plans to move to their new location about five blocks down the street from the center. In between preparing healthy meals for the children, Olga, Elisa, and Marisol were sifting through drawers and cabinets selecting items that would be moved later in the day. While the ladies were generally happy and relieved to have found an affordable location to prepare food for both centers and to have received permission from FUNDAC to borrow the stoves and a refrigerator from the centers, there were moments of sad reflection. One such moment involved Olga finding a memento from her late husband's funeral. Elisa and Marisol huddled around Olga as they read the words next to a photo of her husband in a frame bordered by the baby Jesus, his Mother Mary, and angels. This poignant moment made clear that the ladies had shared good times as well as emotionally difficult times together in this soon to be decommissioned kitchen.

After helping serve lunch to the kids, and as the kids were going down for their naps, the Global Volunteers team went to Belén's for our final lunch and devoured another delicious sampling of Ecuadorian cuisine. On the way back to the center, Tom, Katie, and Seija stepped into a masapán shop for one more look at the handcrafted souvenirs that are the pride of Calderón. We returned to the center while the tías were finishing their lunch. While we were away, the ladies in the kitchen had already moved the stove to the new location and asked if I could walk there to help the driver unload the refrigerator that was being relocated from Center 2. We walked down the street, over the highway on a pedestrian overpass, and another block and a half to the new kitchen. The driver and refrigerator were waiting in front of the white block building that had a large metal security door and smaller service window built into the front. Inside was a large, immaculately clean space with kitchen equipment stacked throughout on the floor. Olga explained that, with a little help from members of the community, everything was going to be set up on Sunday. All of us on the Global Volunteers team are relieved that the FUNDAC organization and staff conceived a workable solution to this issue that threatened the ongoing viability of the centers.

Time to party!!! One by one, after each of us finished our last task of this volunteer trip, the Global Volunteers team sat down in the large room at the front of the center. The tías were all wearing black and were taping themselves with masking tape to simulate skeletons. Elvita started the final celebration with a short speech thanking Global Volunteers and our team while Maggie provided us with an English translation. The tías then gathered in front of us and the kids, donned skeleton masks, and started a song playing on the sound system about skeletons who get up at night, kill imaginary things, scream when they see their reflections in the mirror, and then go back to sleep during the day. Many thanks to Maggie for the translation of this song; some of us were a bit concerned about what messages the tías were trying to convey. We now understand that they were honoring us with a locally popular song and a creative interpretive dance.

Suzanne and Neal with the new charango

Then it was our turn to perform for the children, the tías, and the FUNDAC members who were present. Tom started our portion of the celebration with an impassioned speech of thanks to all of the center staff and FUNDAC for allowing us to share these two weeks with them. He told those gathered that we would be forever grateful for the love and kindness we received from them and that we would remember them forever, a sentiment shared by all members of the Global Volunteers team. After Tom finished speaking on our behalf (with gentle prodding from Katie), we started singing "Te Quiero Yo." As I played the charango, Seija, Katie, Tom, and Suzanne sang and did hand motions toward everyone. With little encouragement, everyone joined in when we sang the song in Spanish.

Tom giving his heartfelt words

After we sang the English and Spanish versions of the song, each member of the Global Volunteers team said a few words to thank our hosts, the tías, and the children. Then, with everyone singing along, we sang the Spanish version of "Te Quiero Yo" one more time. No sooner did we sit down than the tías asked each one of us to come forward, one at a time, to receive handmade cards and gifts of masapán. The tías thanked each one of us and gave us a big hug. A frenzy of dancing and picture taking followed and lasted for the next hour. Hugs were shared among nearly everyone left in the center, along with requests for email addresses and promises to return to Ecuador some day. After much well wishing, the Global Volunteers team made it to Pili's van for the return to our hotel.

Tía Norma and Neal 

Elvia and Suzanne

Elvia, Suzanne, and Tía Gaby

Óscar and Tom

Katie, Tía Roxana, and Tía Alexandra with two little ones

Suzanne, Tía Ruby, and Seija

Tía Olga, Suzanne, and Neal with his new handmade magnet

Pilar and Tom

Suzanne showin' her moves

Tía Gaby and Neal

Tía Karina and Seija 

Elvia, Katie, Suzanne, Pilar, and Seija

Shirley and Tom 

Maggie met us at the hotel at 6:15 p.m. to take us out on the town in the Historic Center of Quito. After a cab ride in the typically slow Friday night traffic of Quito, the Global Volunteers team arrived at the part of Old Quito known as La Ronda. The street and just about every business was crowded with people eating, drinking, and listening to a variety of live Latin American music. We stepped into one restaurant that served what must be the largest empanada known to man; I think it was about two feet long, a foot wide, and covered in coarse granulated sugar. Then we walked to the bottom of the street and back up to a restaurant serving traditional Ecuadorian fare and featuring three musicians playing a variety of Ecuadorian and Andean music. Here Maggie recommended we try a traditional Ecuadorian cocktail, to which, being the compliant volunteers that we are, we eagerly complied.  

By the time we finished our courses at the Ecuadorian restaurant, it was time to catch a cab back to the hotel. At the hotel, the team presented Maggie with a card and a token of our appreciation. We thanked her, said goodbye to one another, and went to our rooms. Tom and Katie planned to get up early in the morning, take a shuttle to the airport, and catch a flight back home to Georgia. Seija planned to check out of the hotel and check in to a hotel in the Historic District of Quito to finish out her long stay in Ecuador. And Suzanne and I planned to rent a car and drive to Baños to veg for three days before returning to San Francisco.  

On behalf of all of us on Ecuador Team 151, thank you, Maggie, and thank you, Global Volunteers, for giving us the opportunity to serve the community of Calderón, where we received much more from our hosts than we provided through our humble service. 

"Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me."

Entry submitted by: Neal Pierce

Message of the Day – Tom Horne: “There was a time in my life during my years in college when I was so talkative that the waterfall of words kept others at a safe distance. Of course, in time, this cascade pushed others away. But what I didn’t realize till much later was that I kept talking faster and louder to the world around me because I couldn’t hear the world within me. Of course, the more noise I made, the less chance I had of having what was real enter me or rise from me. It became a damning cycle.

"So often, we mistake the need to hear with the need to be heard. All that talk was a way of reaching out to others with my heart. Ultimately, it was all based on the fear that if I didn’t throw my heart out there – through endless words and gestures and questions – I would be left alone. It’s taken me many years to learn that the world comes flooding in if I can only keep myself open.

"It remains important to reach out and to express oneself, but underneath that is the need to be porous and real. Through the opened heart, the world comes rushing in, the way oceans fill the smallest hole along the shore. It is the quietest sort of miracle: by simply being who we are, the world will come to fill us, to cleanse us, to baptize us, again and again.” – Mark Nepo in The Book of Awakening

Thursday, July 11, 2013

They wove themselves into the very fabric of my heart

It is with mixed feelings I approach the last few days of my time in Ecuador as well as the end of a three-week volunteering odyssey in Calderón. I left the comforts of home and stepped into the unknown on May 22, not always clear where my journey in Ecuador would take me. I made a conscious decision three years ago when I embarked on my first Global Volunteer post, that I would 'wing things' more in life (something about nearing the 60 mark at the time, perhaps) - plot, plan, and research less, linger longer, embrace surprises, allowing a new country to reveal itself at a more leisurely pace. At times this philosophy has landed me in hot water and I have had to tread quickly to beat the heat, but fortunately not too often. In fact, the only portions of my travels that I prebook these days are indeed the Global Volunteer postings!

My explorations took me from the stunning surreal landscape and wildlife of the enchanted Galápagos Islands to the 17th-century churches, monasteries, restored mansions, photogenic plazas, architectural colonial treasures, and cobbly streets of this UNESCO World Heritage Site that is old town Quito, where I sat on a bench in the Plaza Grande many times during my first week here, breathing in the atmosphere, sometimes just to catch my breath literally, acclimatizing to the breathtaking heights of these Andes Mountains.

Plaza Grande - Main Plaza in Quito

Statue in Plaza Grande

I explored north, enjoying a week at the historical and pastoral old Zuleta Hacienda, home of the Lasso family for the past hundred years and a working ranch to this day, now managed by the grandson of a former president of Ecuador. Taking in the vibrant Otavalo Market nearby where pigs, llama, cows, and the local delicacy, guinea pigs, are sold and traded alongside the colorful handicrafts of the region was an experience in itself! I flew south to walk the streets of colonial Cuenca, taking time en route to purchase some Panama hats (Ecuador has long had to endure the indignity of having their hats called Panama hats when indeed they are made totally in Ecuador. It is said that the name evolved because the hat was supplied to the workers during the building of the Panama Canal.) They are the prince of straw hats, made from the toquilla palm, grown on the coast and woven in the Cuenca area. I continued along, exploring the Inca ruins situated in the scenic countryside at Ingapirca, once part of the Incan royal road that linked Cuzco with present day Cuenca and onward to Cotacachi, home to the leather capital of Ecuador. By chance I ended up in this town for their annual indigenous cultural heritage festival! I was somewhat jostled about in the midst of this street scene by a rousing group of hundreds of indigenous folk celebrating - the men dress up in rather bizarre cowboyish costumes, marching down the main streets of town for hours, singing and chanting all the while. By all appearances, they marched themselves into a frenzy over the two day period, some fuelled by alcohol. Apparently fights break out regularly and every year a few get killed and dozens hospitalized in the process. That explained the police presence complete with shields on all street corners! So yes, after adventuring and exploring bits and pieces of this beautiful and diverse country, I arrived back in Quito and on to Calderón and my Global posting, an adventure in service.


As I approach the end of my three-week-long service in Calderón working with the ladies of FUNDAC - Elvita, Pilar, Margarita – our host,  Maggie, and my fellow tías - Ruby, Norma, Gaby, Alexandra, Karina, Diana, and Roxana, I know I will miss them all very much when I am back in Canada! We have grown into friendship and despite the language barrier, communication was possible. It has been a pleasure working with all the ladies and the children. Oh my, as predicted, they wove themselves into the very fabric of my heart. I never get used to saying goodbye to the little ones on these volunteer missions. On last year's posting in Romania, it was particularly tough to hug and kiss the children goodbye - little orphans who I knew would face the bleakness of the converted hospital rooms that are their home and staff that are far too overburdened to have much left to give to the children at the end of their day. They do their best, but still, the children are left in cribs after their evening meals. No siblings or mothers and fathers to love and care for them. The Global hosts do the best they can, but they desperately need a steady stream of volunteers to help provide love and care for these children.

The scenario and circumstances for the children of Calderón, could not be more different. Poverty and its limitations are a huge issue here certainly, and that is why we are here helping out. But the children all have mothers and some even have fathers at home, who love them dearly. This is very apparent to me as I observe the children being picked up at the end of the day. They appear well cared for by and large and are loved by the tías and volunteers during the day and by their families at night. This makes all the difference in the world when we go to say goodbye tomorrow.
We are a small team. Suzanne, Neal, Tom, Katie, and I all worked well together, finding our rhythm as the days passed. This morning as we drove to work, Neal, ever the entertainer, entertained us with his newest musical instrument, the Peruvian charango, as we practiced our Barney song for tomorrow's goodbye festivities to honor the staff of FUNDAC, the tías, and the children. Neal is a bit of a ham as it turns out, albeit, a very musically and otherwise very talented ham! He had me in stitches this morning with his Elvis renditions!

The team practicing their farewell song in the van

Thursday held its own special kind of poignancy. Suzanne, Katie, and I handled the day-to-day care of the children as usual. Katie also helped Roxana put some creative decorative touches to the children's playroom furniture that she had helped Tom paint earlier in the week. Tom was completing last-minute carpentry work on shelving and various odds and ends. Neal, as usual, was having fun in the kitchen cooking up a storm with Olga, Marisol, and Elisa. There was a special kind of gentleness in the air today as I went about my daily duties: play and puzzle time, feeding the babies, washing a million hands, combing hair, tying shoelaces, and yes, wiping noses. I know the children sensed something, having undoubtedly gone through this many times before, so those little hands lingered longer, holding mine just a little tighter. Katie, Suzanne, and I took turns taking pictures with our classes. Neal, our group professor, and I, his humble assistant, finished off our final English class with Karina, Ruby, Gaby, Norma, and her older son, Néicer. They have improved immeasurably since our first class together! The ride back to the ranch provided opportunity for another rehearsal of our planned performance at the farewell celebration tomorrow afternoon. As Neal played his charango, we laughed and sang our way home, in Spanish and English, amusing Pilar and Maggie no end!

Suzanne, Seija, Katie, and Neil enjoying the ride in the van

We have indeed come to think of the Sol de Quito as our home away from home! We enjoyed a delicioso dinner at the hotel with great conversation, sharing interesting travel stories among other topics. Funny how bonding with people happens. Sometimes it just kind of sneaks up on you, unawares. Ahhh, perhaps time to let go of reflections and head to bed. An emotional day beckons tomorrow.

Entry submitted by: Seija Webb

Message of the Day – Suzanne Pierce: “Without love, deeds, even the most brilliant, count as nothing.” - St. Thérèse de Lisieux

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Who has more fun, us or the kids?

After another hearty eggs, fruit, juice, and coffee breakfast, we met to hear Katie’s message of the day reminding us that in the future we will remember the things we did, but not the things we didn’t do during our lives. Suzanne reminded us of the former days’ events, reminding us of our impact on the children of FUNDAC.

Somehow arriving at the center, the kids “holas” seemed louder and more fervent or maybe I was just more attuned after hearing their hungry cries from the day before prior to the bread coming. When Oscar arrived, we started on the wall shelves and completed three rooms, including repair of a metal shelving unit by removing it and pounding it back into a reasonably flat surface.

Katie, Tom, Maggie, Carlos, and Óscar 

During the day three officials from the Ministry of Social and Economic Inclusion visited the center and afterward the staff showed angst on their faces. Even as we left at the end of the day, several were huddled on the sidewalk conferring about what we later learned might be the loss of Sonia (a ministerial employee), all apparently because they believe the kitchen is too dangerous, using a gas stove in proximity to the children. Later Maggie informed us that the cooks might lose their jobs and the ministry would take over food delivery if they don’t create a separate kitchen area. It is notable to us from North America that no written report or request was delivered to FUNDAC regarding this safety issue. (It does occur to me that FUNDAC could recommend to the ministry that a new power line and electric stove would save them money in the long term by avoiding the expense of meal deliveries.)

Suzanne has been working with Tía Gaby to make cutouts each day and for the first time she was asked to make contents for the next day – really planning ahead and proving that cutups can make good cutouts!

Seija, working in Tía Ruby’s class, got involved in a lively song and dance routine, en español, of course. With Ruby’s singing and Seija’s “cuttin’ the rug”, I’m sure the kids were entertained.

Seija dancin' with three-year-olds!

Katie experienced a child hitting her, and after Tía Alexandra spoke to her, the child walked over to Katie and said “disculpa” and hugged her. At the end of the day, as kids were being picked up, Katie has enjoyed taking photos of several kids and sharing tickles back and forth with them. Do you ever wonder who has more fun, us or the kids?

Katie making hearts with her new buddies

In the kitchen Neal was promised a repeat of the delicious plantain dish they prepared for the kids called emborrajados. They also shared the recipe with him and since it merits publication, Olga’s recipe is as follows:

Harina blanca – 1 libra
Polvo para hornear – 1 cuchara pequeña
Mantequilla – 1 cuchara
Sal – 1 cuchara pequeña
Azúcar – 1 cuchara
Leche tibia – 1 taza
Plátanos maduros en tajadas

Batir todos los ingredientes menos los maduros y luego poner los maduros en la masa y poner a freír a fuego lento.

After another terrific Ecuadorian dinner of mahi-mahi, rice, radish and onion salad, and guánabana (soursop) juice, we retired to the second floor meeting room to plan and practice our thank you to FUNDAC. Neal and Suzanne went shopping for our team donations to FUNDAC and we thank them for their proactive work on this.

In one way or another we were all blessed today!  

Entry submitted by: Tom Horne

Message of the day – Katie Horne: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did so, throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Another day of receiving more than we gave

We are really starting to get into a routine each workday. We talk about our evening at breakfast and troop upstairs for our why we are here and journal reading. Neal's St. Francis of Assisi quote described how we often feel: accomplishing the impossible. How Katie was able to complete the journal last night surprises me since she was really sleepy at dinner.

You can definitely tell that school is out for summer. The trip to Calderón has only stoplight delays. Between lights we speed along the highway and seem to get to the center in what seems to be half the time it took last week.

The streets of Quito

The breakfast for the children was an awesome plantain "pancake." After breakfast was served, Neal came up to me to share an extra that they made in the kitchen. I had to share it, it was so big and delicious. I called it an apple fritter made with plantains - so, so good. I hope Neal's new cookbook has the recipe so that we can have them at home on special occasions. Move over Belgian waffles!

Seija, Katie, Neal, and I went about our regular class/kitchen activities. Tom was a work horse, getting bookshelves ready and installed (at least temporarily), figuring out where additional shelving is planned, putting a second coat of paint on classroom furniture (with Katie), and repairing high chairs that seemed to need a little of everything. The children in all classes except for Tía Gaby’s participated in the weekly activity of dancing/moving to all sorts of music. I understand that the volunteers really enjoyed this and gave many children some new "moves."

Neal still in his kitchen attire dancin' it up with the kids

For lunch, we started with corn on the cob and cheese instead of the traditional soup. We are really being treated special in the daily restaurant we walk to from the center.

Little ones waking up from their nap

Suzanne, Esteban, and Neal reading Curious George

The end of the day came by surprise, we were reading some books together with Esteban  when Maggie said it was time to go! We drove home more quickly again. Neal, Tom, and Katie went to the local music store in search of Andean instruments, Seija went for dinner at Maggie's Korean family's restaurant, and I am here in the second floor sitting room typing the journal entry.  

Another day of receiving more than I gave. I am grateful for this time in this beautiful country of Ecuador.

Entry submitted by: Suzanne Pierce

Message for the day – Neal Pierce: “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”  – Francis of Assisi

Monday, July 8, 2013

Painting and playing

Today we got up and did our usual morning routine. At the center the kids were very loud and we realized it was because they had not been served breakfast yet. The bread wasn’t even at the center yet. When the bread arrived, the kids were suddenly quiet because they were stuffing their mouths.

Katie playing Patty Cake Ecuadorian style

This morning my class was studying the color yellow. They colored in yellow, made bracelets in yellow, and played with toys that were yellow. Suzanne and Seija took down names of the graduated kids and put up the new ones in their classrooms. After the kids’ snack of oranges, I helped move the chairs, beds, and the toy kitchen outside to paint. I started to use sandpaper on all the chairs. When my dad and Oscar started using screwdrivers and hinges, I realized that we wouldn’t be painting for a while, so I went back inside the center.

Katie and Tía Alexandra

In the afternoon Neal worked with the babies for a change and he really enjoyed it. We got through all the furniture, but we still need a second coat. The kids watched Sesame Street in Spanish while they waited for their parents. At the end of the day, Emily and Shirley were sitting in my lap wanting me to take pictures of them over and over again. On the bus ride back home Neal gave us some tostado dulce to share from the cooks in the kitchen. When we got to the hotel, we ate a delicious dinner and met the owner of the hotel, who was not who Maggie expected it to be. We talked with her and then after a while we quickly went to bed. 

Some of the furniture that needed painting 

Katie and Tom painting away – quality father-daughter time! 

Tom, Óscar, and Néicer painting on the patio

The finished, brand new looking furniture! 

Neal and Seija teaching the tías conversational English 
- today's lesson focused on kitchen vocabulary 

Entry submitted by: Katie Horne

Message of the Day – Seija Webb: “I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy.  I woke and I saw that life is all service.  I served and I saw that service is joy.   - Kahlil Gibran

Friday, July 5, 2013

A day that was over the top

It's Friday! The team gathered for breakfast and discussed the highly anticipated events of the day along with the realization that we were all looking forward to a couple of days off on the weekend. Everyone is grateful for the opportunity to serve the community of Calderón, especially after seeing one of the typical family's homes and quality of life yesterday evening, but working at the center demands much energy, and time off is necessary to recharge our batteries for another productive week.  

At this morning's team meeting Seija shared her compassionate, heart-warming journal entry, and Tom shared a quote from Albert Einstein that stressed the value of imagination over knowledge. The team agreed that at the center, with our limited ability to communicate with the children and tías, imagination and body gestures are two of the most valuable tools at our disposal, and based on the positive reactions of our hosts, are probably all we need to convey our love for them. Maggie then had our team review the objectives we had established for ourselves at the orientation meeting the previous Sunday. We all agreed that we had succeeded in working to meet the objectives, but needed to put more effort into learning Spanish through practicing with the center staff.

At the center, each of us made our way to our respective jobs. The kids were having breakfast, so Katie, Seija, and Suzanne resumed assisting their kids and tías, Neal went to help wash and dry the breakfast dishes in the kitchen, and Tom played utility infielder, helping out whomever needed assistance while waiting for Carlos to arrive so they could finish building the shelving units. Once Carlos arrived, he and Tom completed the freestanding magazine/book rack. All in all, they built two 6-foot bookshelves and a book rack out of maple laminate, with bracket supports on each shelf, and about one-million hand-set screws, or at least it seemed like a million once Tom set the last screw with his screwdriver. "The last quarter inch is really tough," said Tom, as the last screws squeaked audibly as Tom turned the screwdriver.  

Óscar and Tom putting the final touches on 
the 6-foot shelving units they built 

Even though the day started off like every other day, all of the focus of the staff and volunteers quickly shifted to the day's big event: the graduation of Gaby's and Ruby's five-year-olds; all on our team were caught up in the excitement. Team members were helping the tías make certificates and portfolios, and making decorations and putting them up in the open space at the front of the center. Tom tested his high-altitude tolerance while blowing up (by mouth) over 60 large balloons.  

Blowing up balloons for the graduation celebration

At lunch, Katie shared that she had started making an effort to talk to the kids in her class using Spanish. She was really excited that the kids were doing what she asked of them when she used their native language. Katie was making good on our re-commitment to our objectives. When we returned from lunch, all of us noticed the tías making themselves "bonitas" in red and white prior to the parents and their children arriving at the center. Even the tías in the kitchen were dressed for the celebration.

Isabel and Katie

Five-year-olds dressed in formal attire were arriving at the center with their parents, extended family, and friends while center staff rushed around to make final preparations. All of our team was put to work arranging and wiping down chairs for the adults. At the beginning of the graduation ceremony, Elvita delivered a long speech which included praise for the efforts of volunteers and financial assistance from Global Volunteers. There were so many adults at the ceremony that we stood in the kitchen and watched through the windows as each student stepped up with their parent to receive a diploma and have their photo taken.  

The graduates!

The graduates singing for their parents

Moments after the last diploma was awarded, a singer started singing to lively music and Elvita pulled us out of the kitchen to join in the dancing. Tías were dancing with the kids while Elvita put us through a series of steps that we'll call dancing for lack of a better word to describe our gyrations. Then cake was served to the kids and soda to the adults while a frenzy of photo taking started and continued well past when the last child and her family left the center. Each of us was honored by being included in one, then another photo while other staff cleaned up following the celebration. We were showered with thanks and cheers of "Hasta el lunes" as Pilar and her daughter Viviana led our team to the van for our return trip home.

Elvia and Seija dancin' it up

Maggie invited us to dinner at a restaurant in the Historical District of Quito called Vista Hermosa, an appropriate name for this amazing venue on the top of a building overlooking Quito's Old Town. We were seated on the edge of the top of the building with a glass-enclosed chrome railing between us and Old Town Quito below. While gas heaters around us provided a bit of heat to fight the chill in the air, a man played a harp accompanied by another on a guitar. This dinner, seemingly on top of the world, with friends sharing memories of an amazing week of volunteering, capped a day that was quite literally "over the top."

Our team at our rooftop dinner

Tom and Katie with a view of Quito's Old Town from the restaurant

View of the hill with the Madonna, who is said to watch over Quito

Entry submitted by: Neal Pierce

Message of the day – Tom Horne: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”  – Albert Einstein 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A moving example of sharing

Today started pretty much as everyday for our little group of five volunteers for Center #1 in Calderón. Breakfast, journal reading, and a quote to focus our intentions for the day.

The children are all enjoying a morning snack as we arrive, something inevitably made with corn. Horray! No one is crying and the new additions from the last few days all appear settled and happier today. Obviously, it is not easy to leave the love and comfort of a mother's arms to arrive in a new setting complete with new rules, regulations, and strangers to care for you! The adjustment takes its own time for each little one. Their faces have become so endearingly familiar over the week - warm hugs, cherubic faces, and happy smiles greet and delight us each and every morning. Katie, Suzanne, and I all find our various tías - Gaby, Alexandra, and Ruby - to settle in for the day. Neal heads to kitchen duty and Tom hits the carpentry deck! Maggie, as always, is there to help with translations, any issues of concern, or to supply an extra set of helping hands. 

Seija feeding the littlest ones 

My main work today consists of finishing touches to folders for the 'grads', the five-year-old little muffins leaving daycare behind for kindergarten next fall. Lots of writing, tracing, cutting, and gluing. In between, we help with all the bathroom breaks, hand washing, midmorning snack of fruit, and structured puzzle play. Lunch always starts with soup, a constant in Ecuador for child and adult alike, as I have discovered. I help tías Norma and Diane feed the babies while keeping an eye on my group of three-year-olds with Tía Ruby.

Seija and Tía Ruby with their three-year-olds and legos

I saw one of the sweetest examples of sharing from one of the children today. It literally moved me to tears. One of the high chair babies, a little boy just barely over a year, who had ample food left on his plate, was feeding his mate in the next high chair, opening his own mouth every time his spoonful made its way into the little girl's mouth, imitating a gesture mothers the world over make when feeding their little ones. :) The recipient was a chubby little girl who had quickly scarfed down her own lunch and was longingly looking at his. Even though this is probably against the rules, knowing how insistent the tías are that children eat everything on their own plates, I just could not intervene! If there is anything I wish to encourage and see more of in our world, it is sharing!  

Maggie and one-year-old Jader, the precious little sharer

Neal, Suzanne, Tom, Katie, Maggie, and I head for our usual lunch spot, a welcome break for us all. It is not the first time we make note of the hard work involved in caring for so many children and we are developing a deep respect for the tías and the work they do each and every day! After lunch, we stop to buy groceries for the family whose home we will visit later in the afternoon. It is our way of saying 'thank you' for opening and sharing their home and lives with us. It is a most humbling experience to visit Gloria, a single mom, and her four children in their three-room rental home. Gloria works as a maid for less than $10.00 a day and by all appearances, is the main financial support for her family of five. It is a bleak existence by Western standards and yet, by all appearances, they are making life work for themselves somehow. Extended family is undoubtedly a comfort and a big support base. We are all somewhat subdued as Pilar drives us back to Sol de Quito. 

The team with Gloria's family

We enjoy a quiet spaghetti dinner 'back at the ranch', washed down with a smooth Chilean Cabernet. We make a toast to American Independence Day as yes indeed, it is July 4th!  

In all aspects, be it via volunteering, lending a helping hand where needed, exploring its geographical terrain, walking its cobbly, uneven sidewalks and streets, observing the locals going about their daily lives, taking in a cultural performance, eating the many and varied delicious local produce, slurping down lunchtime soups with the ubiquitous popcorn croutons, attempting to learn Spanish or in turn, teaching English, our group continues in our quest to learn about the many tiers that make up this amazingly biodiverse country of Ecuador and its people.

I finish with a quote that is close to my heart. I do not know its source.  "It is up to the more able to help the less able."

Entry submitted by: Seija Webb

Message of the day – Suzanne Pierce: "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”  - Jill Jackson Miller and Sy Miller