My AMIGOS summer program experience was incredible. I went to Santa Elena, Ecuador and stayed there for 4 weeks in total, 3 weeks in a host family. Throughout the entire trip, I met a ton of awesome people and learned a lot of Spanish and more importantly, about the culture and people. The first few days in Ecuador were spent with my other volunteers and Project Staff.
We bonded over the course of those days and went over how to be safe and healthy as well as what we would be doing in our communities. Friendships between us volunteers turned into who our community partners would be and too soon we were sent into community in groups of 2 and 1 group of three because we had an odd number of volunteers.
Being in community meant being in a host family and speaking in Spanish full time. I especially had to really only speak in Spanish because I was grouped with a Ecuadorian volunteer named Christopher.
We both had our own host families. My host family was so nice and welcoming even though I was a complete stranger living in their home. My host family consisted of my host dad, Joffre, my host mom, Diana, my older host sisters, Vivianna and Geovanna and finally my younger host brothers, John and Mateo. At first, I was shy with both my host family and Christopher but soon enough I grew comfortable around them and was able to talk to them freely and confidently.
My community, Buena Fuente was a really small community where most people knew each other and it was safer than I could have ever imagined. Most of the shops I saw in Ecuador were held in someone's home and my host family actually ran a shop where they mostly sold ice cream. Their shop ties into the community being safe because my host family's front door was almost always open during the day for the community's people to just come by and buy an ice cream because of Ecuador's hot and humid climate.
The work that Christopher and I did in community was host "extracurricular activities" in meetings on weekdays in the "Casita PLAN" which was a little building that had been built up by the organization PLAN International. During those meetings, we would try to get as many kids from the community to show up and we would have lessons about how to have a healthy hygiene, why throwing away trash is important, that the kids need to hone in on their skills and try to follow in the steps of their most significant role model. Each session started with a little "get to know you" game so that the kids could move around and get excited for the day.
Since I love playing soccer and the kids over there did too, they would drag me over to play with them and it was really fun. Sometimes we could play for hours and then have to go home because it was getting too dark to see. Playing soccer was one of the main things I did during my time in Ecuador. I was lucky to be in my specific host family because my host brother, John, loved playing soccer as well and we would play together in the afternoons with the other kids from the community but also kick a ball around inside the house.
Due to AMIGOS not allowing devices on the program, I had a lot of spare time that I didn't spend on my phone. With that time, I read the books I brought to country, I hung out with Christopher and talked with my host family about what life looks like in my city.
My host mom, Diana, would do most of the chores around the house like cooking, cleaning and doing the laundry. Most of these things I help my family do around my house and I was expecting to do more chores than I ended up doing because Diana would just tell me not to worry and do it for me.
Despite what I thought before going to Ecuador, the people of the community didn't live in poverty and although they might not have as big a house as I do, they had the essentials and were living happily.
Overall, the experience was great and I have no regrets because although some of the extracurricular activities were difficult to teach to the kids, I feel I really created lots of connections with everyone there. My host family became a close second family and I am so grateful to have been their volunteer because they really changed me. The most important things I got out of being in a home stay for three weeks in Ecuador are the friendships I made with all the people I met in Buena Fuente, what I learned about the culture in Ecuador and how I was changed in just a month.
The program went by quickly, unlike my 12 hour stay in the Panama Airport both ways. The day I had to leave my community with Christopher, all the kids were allowed out of school to come say bye to us. It was heart-warming that so many children were really eager to give us hugs and say their farewells. I hugged many of the little kids and said goodbye to all my friends and my host family. A lot of people were crying because of the sad moment and when I saw my host brother -who had become my favorite person in the community- crying, I cried as well which shows how attached I had become to Buena Fuente.
I will always remember that moment as one of the many beautiful events I was able to be a part of during my time in Ecuador.