Peace Corps · site · Uncategorized

Teenage Dreams (for a Better Future)

A big part of my work here is partnering with the local students – it’s a set up as Quincy Jr/Sr High School, which I attended, where the middle and high schoolers both share a campus. At the school I attended, we were all there together, from 8AM to 3PM, and the middle schoolers were separated into their own wing. Here, they split the campus – in the mornings the high schoolers meet from around 7:30-12:30, and in the afternoons the middle schoolers come in from 1:30-6:30. About three years ago, they introduced an IB program, and those graduates are the pride of El Chaco. These students spend an extra two hours each afternoon in school, and do homework all night long to keep up.

My work with them is threefold:

1. GLOW/BRO Curriculum in the Classroom and Clubs

GLOW/BRO, or Girls Leading Our World and Boys Respecting Others, is a worldwide Peace Corps initiative promoting gender equality, sexual education, and female empowerment. You can learn more about it at my blog post on the subject. Using Peace Corps resources, I created an 11-session program that covers a wide range of subjects, from healthy relationships, teen pregnancy and self-esteem. I’ll be implementing this program with three groups – two middle school clubs age 12-15, each once a week, and the IB high school students age 15-17, two days a week. As I’m starting work with the high schoolers first, I’m looking for ways to incorporate leadership opportunities with the younger set into our curriculum.

2. Youth Assembly 

Although this group is not yet fully fleshed out – they’re working to recruit representatives from each of the six rural communities in the county through a democratically-elected process – I’m very excited about their potential. The youth (ages 15-25) have organized a leadership council that advocates for their needs to the local government, and puts together projects that they care about for their peers. I’ve been attending their meetings, and am looking forward to cross-programming in the future!

3. Grassroots Soccer

After Christianity, Soccer is basically Ecuador’s national religion. Everyone knows how to play, and our small town has daily practices for children age 5-20. Using the Grassroots Soccer curriculum, I’m going to join in to coach practices for kids ages 13+. Only I won’t be teaching them how to score a goal, but rather setting a goal that they all learn about how to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in their community. We’ll be playing different dinamicas each week, and tie back the activity to the theme and lesson of that day – such as the importance of using condoms and understanding sexual history as it ties to risk of HIV/AIDS transmission. By co-teaching with the coaches and local social workers, I hope to empower them to continue to run these trainings and activities in other cities in the county even after I leave. My town alone has 8 groups that I’ll be helping lead for the next three months, and there’s six different cities in the county I’m responsible for serving.

My work here extends beyond high school education, but I hope this helps y’all better understand what my day to day looks like.

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My middle schooler’s surprised me with a cake during our last club meeting
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Delicious produce at the high school’s recent Ecuadorian food showcase
Peace Corps · site · Travel · Uncategorized

Across the Country in Seven Days

My long-distance boyfriend, Matt, came to visit and ring in the new year with me. It was his first time ever in South America, and I was determined to show him as much of the country as possible during his trip. He was coming for just over two weeks, but I balanced out our itinerary so we could spend half of it just relaxing at my site, spending time in my typical routine – going to work, hosting clubs, running on forest service roads, shopping at the market and sharing dinner with my host family.

To kick off our travels, I picked out an Airbnb apartment inside a beautiful colonial building overlooking Ecuador’s famous basilica. The sites were gorgeous outside, but between with the rainy weather and catching up after seven months apart we spent most of our time cozied up inside playing cuarenta, Ecuador’s national card game and cooking together in the clean, modern kitchen (a heavenly sight for a campo volunteer like me). I love wandering through the winding streets of Quito’s Centro Historico, and had the opportunity to check out several new museums – my favorite being the Contemporary Art Museum of Quito, housed in the colonial hospital.

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From the back tower of Quito’s Basilica del Voto Nacional 
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Sitting on opposite sides of the equator in el Mitad del Mundo

Our next stop was Salinas, known across Ecuador for the country’s biggest New Year’s Eve celebration. As the clock neared midnight, the beach was packed full of Ecuadorian families dressed all in white – a tradition that helps start the new year on a clean slate – with fireworks and Frozen-style paper lanterns lighting the air, and music everywhere. When the clock struck midnight, huge bonfires filled with años viejos, piñata-like figures representing their favorite – or least favorite – images from the previous year were lit, sending sparks everywhere due to the fireworks mischievous revelers had snuck into the center of the pile. We spent New Year’s Day recovering with a traditional hangover breakfast of encobollado, or fish soup,  long hours spent relaxing and reading, and a long walk to the Western-most point of Ecuador, la Chocoletera, to take a dip in the warm ocean with the sunset surrounding us on an empty beach. It was a magical way to start off 2018.

January 2nd; however, was not so beautiful – the bus terminals were a disaster, with everyone heading home from the holidays. All the buses we wanted were sold out, so we made a game-time change to our itinerary, and thanks to the help of a friendly nun, were able to find a night bus heading towards Baños, a popular tourist town in the halfway point of Salinas and my site. We found ourself with an unexpected 12 hour “layover” in Guayaquil, which we spent strolling the malecon, exploring the revitalized neighborhood of Las Pinas, and checking out the dozens of iguanas lolling in the central city square. In Baños, we took a tour through their route of waterfalls and spent a few hours playing cuarenta in a cute coffeeshop.

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300+ Steps of Las Penas in Guayaquil
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Pailon del Diablo in Baños
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Iguanas in Guayaquil

When we did make it back to my site, it was just in time to welcome a group of other Peace Corps volunteers to my community, all of whom were also visiting me for the first time. We were hoping to tackle the rapids of the Amazon River with a long day of white water rafting, but the early winter rains meant that the river was moving too fast, and we would need a Plan B. Luckily for me, Plan B turned out to be an El Chaco activity that I’d always wanted to do but had not yet had the opportunity for – Cueva de los Tayos. The Tayo birds, or Oil Birds, have a different famous location in southern Ecuador, an expedition that requires several days of hiking into the deep cloud forest, and was once believed to hold exquisite golden treasures – think the Genie’s cave in Aladdin. The treasures were never found but you can watch a recent documentary about their search for them featuring Neil Armstrong. This cavern is smaller, but fascinating nevertheless. The two hour hike involved going down a deep cavern, fording the river and walking through a stream to arrive at a split in the mountain where the river had worn through over time, creating a walkable cave leading to through to the opposite side of the mountain. It was gorgeous, and when any of you come visit I’ll be sure to take you along the same trail.

After the weekend adventures, we started to settle back into my relaxed routine here in El Chaco. While I was work, Matt hung back with my kitten, Mayu, and read Pillars of the Earth, made lunch, or worked out. Having some semblance of a routine was the perfect way to end the trip, and spend some quality time together while giving him an insider’s look at my everyday Ecuadorian life.

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Walking across the river to get to the cave near my site
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A tribal dance ceremony in Misahualli
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I made friends with a baby monkey in Misahualli
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Cueva de los Tayos

And even better, I had the free time to play my entire way through Super Mario Odyssey on his Nintendo Switch.

Peace Corps · Travel · Uncategorized

(Not) Home for the Holidays

In my twenty-two years, this was the first where I spent Christmas away from my family. It’s hard to believe it was nearly a month ago now – the holiday season went by so quickly! After a week of town festivities before Christmas, a week of family festivities with my close Ecuadorian friend and her family, and two weeks exploring Ecuador and hanging out here at home with my boyfriend, I finally have the time to reflect on it all.

Christmas here was an interesting blend of commercialized traditions I recognized – like a night dedicated to each of the local children’s classes singing a different Christmas carol (all translated into Spanish, of course) and the bright colored string lights that were hung on the Main Street storefronts. But they had a distinctly Ecuadorian twist – the Christmas feast featured half a plate of rice alongside the turkey, and the kids all dressed up in full traditional, indigenous dresses and garb to sing their carols. On the Friday before Christmas for the local government’s celebration, we had a talent show where each of the departments competed against one another to show off their skills. We borrowed Otavalan-style indigenous clothing from the local dance studio to perform Whiskicito, Ecuador’s favorite party jam. It was super fun to spend the morning attempting (failing) the traditional dance moves with all of my coworkers, and try on the beautiful Ecuadorian skirts and blouses for the first time.

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My Korean co-volunteer from KOICA and I in our Christmas dance outfits

Another central custom here in Ecuador is giving the kids caramelos, or little candies and sweets, for Christmas. It’s like their Halloween. All of the tiendas show off big bags of mixed candies in their front windows, and the kids are wired on sugar all December long. When I was playing Doctor and Patient with a group of the neighborhood kids one day after work (picture me laying across the sidewalk, surrounded by one bossy seven-year-old and her posse of siblings and cousins, pretending to be pregnant with her blonde doll. It totally counts as reproductive health education), I was hand fed about about a dozen candies as my “medicine.” Another excellent teachable moment. The a good portion of the candy is given out through a partnership with a Chinese oil company that extracts crude oil from underneath the nearby Amazon rainforest, leading to significant environmental damage, and the local government. It definitely felt strange as a community health volunteer helping hand out the bags of candy to children in the indigenous community of Oyacachi, which was my shift to help.

For Christmas proper, I headed to Ambato with my close friend to spend the holidays with her extended family there. Her mom has seven siblings, each with children of their own, so it was exactly the packed, loud, loving Latino family I had imagined spending time with before coming to Ecuador. I brought a deck of Uno and regular cards to play with the kids, and they loved it. We spent hours going around in circles playing Uno and War throughout the entire weekend, especially with my self-declared new four-year-old best friend.

 

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Ecuadorian family photo
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Teaching my friend’s family how to make frosted Christmas cookies
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Christmas dinner with my coworkers – grilled turkey, rice and my now-famous apple pie

New Year’s Eve, on the other hand, was like no other holiday I’d experienced before. It was four days after my boyfriend, Matt, arrived in Ecuador – marking the first time I’d seen him after seven months apart! – and we were on the beach of Salinas, down on the southern end of the country.

The place was wild – all evening long, the beach was absolutely filled with people, usually with a Pilsner in hand, laughing with their family and enjoying the warm night air. Matt and I missed the memo to wear all-white, a Ecuadorian custom that helps you start your new year off fresh, and also didn’t bring our own año viejo. They’re giant paper-mache piñatas (sometimes filled with fireworks, so be careful!) that represent either something you hated about 2017, and want to say goodbye to, or something you loved, and want more of in the upcoming year. I’m not exactly sure how they can all be mixed together in the same bonfire, but Ecuadorians reassure me that it works. Every 100 yards or so along the beachfront, starting at midnight, was a bonfire about 20 feet tall filled with as many año viejos as they could stack on top of one another. Across the waterfront, everyone was lighting up huge fireworks and sending them out over the ocean.

Finally, in my favorite part, the skies were filled with floating lanterns, just like in the movie Tangled. For $2, Matt and I bought our own – only to remember that we didn’t have a lighter, or matches, or any idea how to light off one of the lanterns. Luckily, a friendly family helped us out along the waters’ edge, and we got to watch it drift off as it disappeared out over the ocean. With music and fireworks filling the air, and my first true New Year’s kiss, it was a night I won’t forget.

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Fireworks in the background with años viejos waiting to be burned in the foreground
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Watching the sunset on New Year’s before jumping in for a swim
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We had encebollado, or fish soup, an Ecuadorian hangover cure, on New Year’s morning

So here’s to 2018! I hope you all are as excited for the adventures this year will bring as I am.

Peace Corps · site · Training · Uncategorized

Girls Leading Our World

Wow! It’s been a long time since I wrote my last blog post – about a month ago, on Thanksgiving, and now it’s only five days until Christmas. Despite all of the Christmas music (in English and Spanish) I’ve been playing on repeat, its hard to get into the holiday spirit when the humidity has you sweating through your sleeveless tank tops. The closest I’ll get to a white Christmas are the fluffy white clouds. But those are a welcome relief from the grey rainclouds that made daily appearances during the rainy season, when I first arrived in El Chaco. Now that it’s summertime, every day is like the perfect first day of summer: 75-80 degrees, with a slight breeze to cool you off. The only problem is the Goldilocks dilemma of reliable running water. Too dry, and there’s not enough rainwater collected, which means no water in the taps for a few days. Too much rain, and the systems get flooded, leading to plenty of water flooding the streets but none to flush your toilet.

I’m going to break up today’s blog posts into a few separate sections, so I can better focus on everything that I’ve been up to.

This one is a dedication to all things GLOW and BRO, or Peace Corps’ speak for Girls Leading Our World and Boys Leading Others. It’s a worldwide program tied to Peace Corps’ overarching gender initiative. Women’s empowerment and the feminist movement has always been a very important subject for me – in college, I was the president of Prytanean, the first women’s honor society, founded at UC Berkeley, and my sorority broke from our national organization to found our own local sorority, dedicated to the ideals of women’s empowerment, diversity, inclusivity, and courage. Here in Ecuador, volunteers from across Community Health, Youth and Families, and Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) teach charlas, organize weekly clubs and plan summer camps with their local counterparts to give women tools to take initiative in their own life, and set big goals for the future, while encouraging men to respect women as equals.

In rural parts of Ecuador, women earn an average of US$219/month to men’s US$293, despite working 23 hours more per week than men, on average, according to UN Women. I had the opportunity to sit down with a representative from UN Women during training, and the women I sat down with stressed their concern about domestic violence: 6 out of 10 women in Ecuador have experienced some kind of violence, and the women most vulnerable to violence are between 16-20 years of age. By teaching high school students of all genders about women’s rights, self esteem, and goal-setting for a better future, I hope to help the students in El Chaco to beat the statistics.

With two local counterparts’ help leading charlas and navigating cultural norms with me, I will be starting a co-ed club in the two local high schools for about 60 students ages 11-14. From January-May, we will discuss themes ranging from healthy relationships, gender roles, leadership, sexual education, life planning and self esteem in a safe space during weekly meetings. In July, five student leaders from each club will be invited to attend a five day, four night summer camp in Tena, the capital of our province. Four of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers are helping me plan this camp and bringing their own students as representatives of their communities. There, they will have the chance to meet peers from cities across the Amazon – Arosemena, Loreto and Puyo – and delve deeper into the same themes we’ve been discussing during our club. Following the camp, they will be trained student leaders, and together we will do open houses and mini summit day camps in the four main regions of our county to disperse the information across a wider group of young people in our community.

I am incredibly excited to embark on this project that is meaningful and prioritized not only by me, but also by my coworkers in the local community who believe this could help change students’ lives.

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Early morning hike to Cuicocha the weekend before the GLOW Camp Training with Mikayla
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Self-esteem activity in my English Club by one of my students
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Fellow PCVs at the GLOW Camp Training enjoying some quality time together
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Adorable future leaders eagerly waiting to receive their Christmas candies in the indigenous community of Oyacachi
Peace Corps · Training · Uncategorized

Giving Thanks

Today, I’m spending my first Thanksgiving away from my family, ever. It’s a strange feeling to be abroad during an exclusively American holiday: I’m sitting at a cafe in central Quito, overlooking the busy streets. The people walking by are just having a normal day, grabbing a quick lunch during their break from work, selling loose cigarettes on the street corner, and running errands for their families. But Americanization is everywhere. The Snapchat filter displays a festive Thanksgiving scene of pumpkins and falling leaves alongside messages like “Jueves”, “Downtown Quito” and even “Sun’s Out, Buns Out”. But I’m with a good friend, my “site mate” – even though he lives three hours from me – and we’re able to spend the time sharing favorite logic puzzles from childhood and discussing our role as volunteers here in Ecuador, how we hope to make a difference in our communities and the lasting impacts we may unintentionally make on the people we work with.

I was nervous that I would be really sad today, that it would be hard to spend the holidays so far away from home. I still miss my family and friends back home – I felt a sad tug in my heart when my mom sent a cute picture of my father and grandfather getting up bright and early to prepare turkey – but I have been pleasantly surprised by how at home I feel here. I groggily woke up this morning at the apartment of a new friend, an English teacher for Fulbright, and we slowly spent the morning preparing coffee, relaxing in her apartment and playing with her two friendly cats. Eventually, they headed off to their respective Thanksgiving dinners: Mikayla to a feast at the house of the deputy United States Ambassador to Ecuador, Lara to a luncheon with all the Fulbright scholars, teachers, and employees at a local hotel. Not having a Thanksgiving dinner invite of my own, I headed here to Juan Valdez cafe with Daniel.

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My fellow Community Health volunteers with our Ecuadorian counterparts

I’ve been in Quito for the past week and a half with the rest of my Omnibus for our Reconnect training. We learned how to conduct self-esteem, sexual health, and HIV/AIDS activities in our community and presented the diagnostics we created of health and social issues in our community. For mine, I created a video showcasing the beauty my site offers with community members sharing their personal opinions on the biggest problem they would like addressed in their hometown. You can watch it here! You can also read through the presentation if you’d like, it delves into the different social and health issues I discovered while learning about my community. Warning: it’s all completely in Spanish. When I first got here, I could barely ask someone how their weekend went in Spanish, so I’m really proud of myself and how I’ve learned enough to create and share entire presentations like this now.

The last day of our conference was yesterday, the day before Thanksgiving. The volunteers worked together to create a potluck Thanksgiving feast, complete with four roasted turkeys, sweet potato casserole, and a huge salad made from vegetables we picked from the garden the Community Health volunteers planted during training in August. Many of the dishes were brand-new for our Ecuadorian counterparts, and they all loved the food.

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Devouring our Thanksgiving feast with lots of dessert – but unfortunately no pumpkin pie

I’m looking forward to heading back to my site next week because I miss my kitten and my friends back in El Chaco a lot. That Friday, we’ll be holding a repeat Thanksgiving (it’ll be my third – I’ll be attending a second one that a English teacher volunteer is hosting in Imbabura on Saturday) with friends and colleagues, and once all of them are done I’m sure I’ll be sick to death of American food, and ready to go back to Ecuadorian plantains, exotic fruits and Chimborazos de arroz (i.e. huge mountains of rice).

Next week marks exactly six months that I’ve been away from home, and I’m shocked at how quickly the time has passed. Two years suddenly doesn’t feel like a very long time. But this Thanksgiving, I want to reflect on how thankful I am to have this experience here. I know that I’m learning and receiving far more than I can hope to share with my community, Here, I have learned Spanish, how to properly eat guinea pig, and how to flip over a kayak while sitting upside down in the water in a local pool in order to – hopefully – learn how to kayak on the white waters of our local branch of the Amazon River, el Rio Quijos. And I have made friends with my fellow Peace Corps volunteers and other volunteers from all over the world – everyone from a English teacher that took swim lessons as a child at the community pool half a block away from my house to the South Korean physical therapist I work with each day. So thank you, everyone who has been a part of my journey here in Ecuador so far.

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Omnibus 118 rocking our new Peace Corps shirts 

 

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Planting a keyhole-style garden
Peace Corps · site · Travel · Uncategorized

Feriados

This past week was filled with adventures that stretched all across Ecuador while also deepening a few of my friendships and understanding of the community right here in my site. To start off my week, I hitched a ride in el camioneta del Municipio with a few local kidney dialysis patients (they have to travel 4-6 hours roundtrip three days a week to get the medical attention they need, and the local government only provides transport for them one of those days) to Tena, shaving off my trip from three hours in the bus to just an hour and a half in a private pickup truck. I quickly switched to a second bus, headed towards Riobamba, for my cluster meeting. Peace Corps arranges these biannual meetings for groups of volunteers living in relatively the same area – my group includes all of the volunteers from the Amazonia, which is only seven in total, as well as a dozen volunteers living in the Central Sierra zone. I was especially excited for this trip because my closest friend from training, Charlie, would be in the same cluster as I am, even though we’re normally a 10 hour bus ride away from one another!

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Charli and I visiting a church in Riobamba
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Charli and I exploring the colonial district of Riobamba

The cluster meeting itself wasn’t much – just receiving our annual flu shot, safety reminders, and meeting the other volunteers in our area – but having the opportunity to be reunited with the volunteers from my training group and meet new TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) volunteers who live nearby made all those hours in the bus worth it. We stayed in the historical district of Riobamba and explored all the colonial architecture, then celebrated Halloween together on the first day, then spent the second day feasting on a rare meal of Mexican food before heading back to our sites.

The second day, there was no way I could make the bus route all the way back to my community in one afternoon, so I stayed at the halfway point with a fellow volunteer near Tena the next night.

When we woke up the following day it was one of what feels like Ecuador’s weekly feriados or holidays/festivals. This one was called Dia de los Oscuros (Day of the Darkness) in my community, but is officially named Dia de los Difuntos (Day of the Deceased). To celebrate, we woke up early and headed to the iglesia for mass with Daniel’s host family. Their dog followed us there and it was hard for me to stifle my laughter watching this huge dog take a nap under the pews, go up to sniff the priest, and look for someone to pet him when everyone kneeled down to pray. But none of the locals seemed concerned, so it must be normal behavior in their pueblo of about 50-60 people.

Once the service ended, we were all given traditional colada morada – a traditional hot drink on this day made with black corn flour, panela, naranjilla, babaco, pineapple, blackberries and strawberries – with a side of wawas – Kichwa for baby, a bread roll formed and decorated in the shape of a baby, and stuffed with cheese.

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You can spot Brando, Daniel’s family’s dog, hanging out in the back looking for treats

I headed back to my site pretty quickly after that because we had our own festival to celebrate!

Friday and Saturday encompassed the annual River Festival, which I was especially excited for because it would be my first time out on the water here for white water rafting. Once I got there, I counted my lucky stars that I’d been doing Kayla Itsine’s BBG workout for the past few weeks, because the courses were hard! I’d signed up for the obstacle course, or gyncana, as well, but it used every reserve of strength I had just to finish it. After climbing up tire ladders, jumping off rocks into the water, swimming, running, army-crawling, we had to traverse a loose tightrope about 50 feet across the water. The entire time, I was 75% sure I was going to pass out. But with the sound of my entire town cheering me on ringing in my ears, I just barely made it across, collapsing in the sand on the other side.

Luckily, my rafting team faired much better. Even though we were the only team of 4 women and 2 men – the rest had the inverse – we finished the two day competition in a close second second place. As compensation, we won $100 to split among the team members (which worked out to a perfect $15 and one Pilsner each) and a handmade bamboo medal as a keepsake.

If I thought that after all of this, Sunday was going to be a day of rest, I was very much mistaken. I woke up early to head to the market and pick out the ingredients for a fresh apple pie I’d made plans with two of my friends to bake earlier this week. The pumpkin pie had been such a hit the week before, I wanted to give them a comprehensive understanding of my favorite fall desserts. Her family had lived in Spain during Ecuador’s economic downturn, so I also had the opportunity to try a delicious traditional Spanish meal for lunch before sharing our apple pie for dessert. In the middle of our afternoon, my counterpart texted Natalia and I – “Want to go kayaking?” Of course we did.

One quick change later, we found ourselves laughingly suited up in helmets, life jackets and thick kayaking “skirts” at the local pool. White water kayaking lesson number one: what to do when your kayak flips. For two full hours, we had three personal kayaking guides train us on how to turn a completely submerged kayak upside down with just our hips, arms, and the tip of a fellow kayak, a life jacket or our paddles. It was exhausting work, but I felt such a thrill of accomplishment when I managed to pop back up and breathe again.

All in all, I ended the week feeling so lucky to be placed with this community as my site and excited for the months to come.

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This obstacle course was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done
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Handmade medals by a local artist
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After three days of rafting, obstacle courses and kayaking, I was as tired as my little kitten
Peace Corps · site · Uncategorized

Work/Life Balance

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:

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Dia de los Adultos Mayores celebration

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.

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I introduced my friends Natalia and Jenni to pumpkin pie in honor of Halloweekend

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!

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Cows crossing the road on my walk to work
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Celebrating my little sister’s 8th birthday
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Making one of my frequent appearances on ChacoTV during the March Against Domestic Violence