On the phone with Matt the other day, we were talking about the wild differences between the inconveniences I face at work (to turn on the light in the room where I hold my youth group meetings, I zap together two exposed wires) compared to his (after enjoying the chef-prepared breakfast at work, he went to the wrong meeting twice before finding the right room). His work/life balance might be catching up on work emails while watching the Warriors game with his roommates, whereas mine is an expectation that I cheer on my coworkers at inter-municipal soccer matches after work several days a week. I haven’t talked that much about my actual work here in Ecuador yet on this blog, so I wanted to give y’all a better insight into what I do:
The coworkers I work with most closely include my counterpart, who heads up tourism for my town, two social workers, and the head of the culture department in the local government. I’m working to develop a stronger relationship with the local Ministerio de Salud Publica (MSP) as well. I’m wary of being roped in to taking over projects that Ecuadorians are currently doing – and can probably do better than I can, considering my still-struggling Spanish pronunciation – whenever possible. In order to maximize the sustainability of my service, I aim to focus my work on introducing new projects based on expressed needs by community members. Then I’ll train locals in what I’m doing so they can slowly take over my projects. By the time I finish my two year service, ideally I’ve worked myself out of a job. If I take over pre-existing projects (like charlas in the waiting room of the MSP or during reuniones de los adultos mayores (sort of like the Ecuadorian equivalent of a senior center with a set weekly agenda and free lunch) I worry that the opposite will happen, and the community will lose capacity.
The primary project I’ve been working on during the last month is launching two youth groups. One is for middle-school aged students (11-14) and the other for high schoolers (14-17). Each group meets once a week and we focus on building their confidence with speaking English (a strong expressed interest for a lot of students and one that makes my life a little easier if I can conduct the group half in my native language) and learning about health, with a particular focus on life skills. From the results of my surveys and conversations with students, their biggest concerns are alcoholism, drug use (marijuana and cocaine are widely abused with both high schoolers and adults), teen pregnancy and malnutrition (a diet high in carbohydrates, sugar and salt led to widespread problems of obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes in my community). One of the social workers and I will be attending a training at the end of November to learn more about how to teach teenagers topics such as gender equality, planning for the future and self-esteem. Our goal is to host a summer camp next year for about 50 students encompassing all of these topics through Michelle Obama’s LGL (Let Girls Learn) GLOW/BRO (Girls Leading out World/Boys Respecting Others) program. Right now, I’m also working on putting together a budget and project proposal to submit to the local government leadership and hopefully secure full funding for an overnight camp.
Two other projects I’m excited about with the Ministerio de Ambiente. Ever since I found out my placement was in the Amazon, I’ve been thinking about how I can encourage sustainability and environmental education under my community health umbrella. One of the main industries here is oil drilling, and despite the courses I took on the environment in both high school and college, I had no idea there was oil drilling going on in the Amazon! It’s incredibly destructive to the surrounded environment and rivers, and it’s important to me that the population here understands the environmental and health implications of the industry here in their home, the most biodiverse region on the planet. The high school is putting together an Environment Club, and I’m going to help lead charlas and activities to promote environmental education across the community.
The second project I’ll be tackling with them will help improve food security for the most impoverished members of our community. The ministerio has identified families living in remote areas of the canton where they do not have regular access to fresh produce or the funds to purchase them. We will be visiting these families and working with them to grow a garden in their yard filled with healthy veggies and other food. Mr. Moe’s class on gardening in seventh grade is the extent of my experience growing my own food, but luckily the locals I’ll be working with are experts on what grows best in the rainy conditions here. My addition to the project will be small cooking demonstrations and food sampling in the community members’ own kitchens. After they learn about the different foods we’re growing in their garden, I am going to prepare a cheap, culturally-relevant healthy recipe with them as an example of what they can prepare with the bounty from their huerto.
Besides those listed above, I’m also going to be working with the local business association, teaching HIV/AIDS through soccer, and doing lessons and activities for community members with disabilities.
If you have an idea about any of the projects I listed above, I would love to hear it! Share an activity or game idea in the comments, or reach out to me over Facebook/text so that we can plan together!