Say what?!!

Two whole posts in a week?! I think I’m breaking a personal record here. I thought it’d be good to give a proper account of the two projects that I have so far embarked upon in Yunguilla and in the day care centre for disabled children.

Yunguilla is the most beautiful, serene, idyllic place I have ever laid eyes on. When I first arrived I really couldn’t see the whole cloud forest thing going on: it was a clear morning and the view stretched for miles all the way to the mountains; however by noon the clouds had rolled in letting Yunguilla to live up to its name.

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A cow on the path!

I worked with two friends, Connie and George; our days generally consisted of a range of activities: watering plants in the orchard, planting seeds, sweeping paths, assisting tourists and teaching in the school. On one of the days we had a trip into the cloud forest to find seedlings and take them back to the nursery; here they began the long term process of being nurtured until they reached the required stage that would enable them to survive, when they would be replanted in the forest.

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The school was really tiny, with 3 teachers and 12 kids. There were 3 classes: the first was made up of of 3 – 6 year olds, the second were ages 7 – 9 and the oldest class went up to 14. Teaching English was fun and the children eager to learn – the teachers encouraged us to teach the youngest class outside as they were very energetic!

Our time there coincided with the national holiday of carnaval. On the last school day Connie and I were ambushed by screaming kids (and screaming teachers!) with cans of spray foam and tubs of water. Sadly I was in no state to take photos of that crazy day! All I can say is that literally everyone here takes carnaval to heart. I´ve lost count of the number of times I´ve been drenched on the street by passing cars!

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Connie teaching English in the playground

Yunguilla is such a small place I don´t really know what to call it except a community. Everyone is related in some way or another – a bit like the Scottish highlands! – and everyone knows everyone. Houses are scattered along a long road, some hidden behind trees and up hills.

In truth, there really wasn´t much to do in our spare time. Sometimes we would get off work at 3pm with the whole afternoon to spare! The three of us had many, many walks. We also found out how the younger ones managed to spend their time: by swinging. Everywhere we went we would find swings; some were small but others swung right into the landscape high into the clouds – which isn´t actually that daunting considering that Yunguilla is set in a cloud forest.

Working with the children at the day care centre is a totally different world. The place is called ABEI: Amigas Benefactores de Enfermos Incurables (Benefactors of Terminally Ill Friends). I feel really needed here, as the kids are quite demanding and there are only three nurses to take care of them. With the other volunteers, we take care of one kid each for the day, feeding and playing with them and making sure they´re happy.

Although the work is tiring and sometimes emotional seeing the kids so helpless, I feel like I´m making a huge difference. The atmosphere is so warm and the nurses are really caring. It´ll be sad leaving such a great place next week! But of course I´m really looking forward to starting at La Hesperia, where I´ll be doing the work I came here to do. Until next time!

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Words of Wisdom

Before I begin, I have to apologise for the the lateness of this post. How on earth do I write about 3 weeks of total craziness in one single blog post?! Upon leaving home I was given a huge amount of encouragement and advice. But of course, you don’t realise how wise the words of friends and family are until you’re in the situation where you need the words. So with that in mind I will head each part of this post with the two most appropriate quotes that sum up my time here.

“Prepare for the unexpected.”

Quite naively, I left for Ecuador under the impression that things would go according to plan: I would spend my time doing conservation work with two different communities, Yunguilla and La Hesperia – doing my part to save the world! However, after only 2 weeks in Yunguilla I realised that although the work I was doing was important it wasn’t what I expected and it wasn’t enough for me to justify staying on the project; thus I came to the difficult decision to leave this project early.

Saying goodbye: my host family in Yunguilla. May I comment on my height?!

The description of the project I applied for gave the impression that Yunguilla was a village dedicated to conservation, which is not the case. The community aims to preserve their natural life and surroundings through volunteers participating in community work such as sweeping paths, construction work, teaching in the school, helping cater for tourists, making cheeses and jams etc; conservation is only a part of this.

Teaching the kids in the school
Teaching the kids in the school

Of course I have a huge amount of respect for Yunguilla – not just the ethics of the community, but the simple life and the determination of the people to achieve something so important in a world intent on destroying itself. Upon receiving a grant in the mid-1990s the village rapidly developed into the self-governing community it is now and although the work wasn’t what I expected, I learned a lot from the short time that I was there. I am so grateful for the opportunity to have worked on such an inspiring project!

Yunguilla in the morning (before the cloud comes in...)
Yunguilla in the morning (before the cloud comes in…)
And Yunguilla when the cloud has come in and obscured everything within 2 meters!
And Yunguilla when the cloud has come in and obscured the beautiful views!

However a part of me feels like I have failed to live up to the goal of my time in Ecuador. I really wanted to work on conservation and reforestation here and while I´ll get my chance in 2 weeks when I move to La Hesperia, I can´t help but feel like I´ve let myself down. But I guess that ties into the other piece of advice I was given,

“Travel with an open mind.”

I´ve come to realise how important it is to travel with the mindset that things are going to happen that you don’t expect, and that doesn’t make what happens bad or wrong, just different. Unexpected.

I think I’m taking the whole open mind thing to heart: my new project is working in a day care centre for disabled children. The work is really challenging but rewarding, and I really feel like I´m making a difference. I´ve been here for 2 weeks so far and I have 2 more to go until I move to La Hesperia for the rest of my time in Ecuador. That is, if it all goes to plan!