Ecuador: The Second Home Visit

 

Today, I’m continuing my series of posts relating to my recent trip to Ecuador. For previous posts, click here.

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During our second day in Riobamba we visited Child Development Center EC420, a center with an active Child Survival Program. For more on this program, and our time at the center, click here.

After spending some time with the mothers and their children, we again broke into our smaller groups and headed to the home visits. For me, that meant climbing into the back of a pick-up truck for a quick, maybe 5 minute, ride up the mountain to the home of Luisa and her amazing family.

EcuadorSecondHomeVisit1We had been warned before visiting that this would be an especially difficult part of the trip. After the urging of Compassion staff, Luisa had, only 7 days before, left her abusive husband and moved in to a small building on her mother’s property. She had been beaten severely, and still had some bruising on her face.EcuadorSecondHomeVisit2But, do you know what I found in her house? Not fear, not shame, not regret – joy. Sublime joy. She was getting help for her children. She had a roof over her head and people that loved her. She welcomed us with open arms, thankful to be able to share her story with us.
EcuadorSecondHomeVisit4She showed us the progress her baby was making, while we admired her two-room home. She had no running water, no cook-top, and only 1 bed. But she had such joy.EcuadorSecondHomeVisit6Clearly God was with her. Her baby boy was thriving in his environment, but emotionally was missing his father. Luisa asked that we pray for her children as they adjust to the transition into a safer environment. EcuadorSecondHomeVisit5Our small group did indeed pray for Luisa and her family, and we left her with a large bag of groceries, words of encouragement, and a true time of fellowship. I will not soon forget our time together. EcuadorSecondHomeVisit3Afterward, we all gathered outside the humble home for a group photo. Side note: Luisa’s niece is an absolute doll & loved posing for photos.
EcuadorSecondHomeVisit7Luisa’s baby boy decided to wake up for the photos, too. Isn’t he precious! Look how happy they are – such joy, such joy.
EcuadorSecondHomeVisit8 EcuadorSecondHomeVisit9This was a great way to spend our last full day in Riobamba. Tomorrow we would begin the long drive back to Quito & our own sponsored kids!

 

Ecuador: After the First Home Visit

Today, I’m continuing my series of posts relating to my recent trip to Ecuador. For previous posts, click here.

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After we left Paul’s house, we returned to the Child Development Center (EC469) to observe a typical class and have some fun with all the children. This is the first time that we really got to play and interact with the children in a large recess-like setting. As soon as we got back to the Child Development Center, we were escorted into one of the after school classes to observe a typical lesson, and, depending on time, help with a corresponding craft. My small group observed an older class of 10-12 year-olds studying Jonah and the Whale. The best part? As soon as I was back on the campus, Valeria sought me out and was once again glued to my side. If you look closely, you can see the two of us in the very back-right of the photo below (in the classroom learning about Jonah).

EC469Afternoon01After the lesson it was time for recess, and we brought out all of the fun stuff: stickers, jump rope, pipe cleaners, nail polish (big hit), and bubbles (which quickly caused a stampede. IF you go on a Compassion trip, and you take bubbles, I suggest you take one large container of mix and lots of wands. I took tons of individual bottles – around 100 – and was overwhelmed with the demand.)

EC469Afternoon02There were huge lines for everything we brought – from pipe cleaner bracelets to stickers to nail polish, the kids loved everything. Seriously, stickers and pipe cleaners were like gold.

EC469Afternoon03And Valeria, she won my heart that afternoon. She was shy, by fiercely loyal; making sure I was in eye sight the entire time. I’m am so glad I get to continue to play a small part in her life.

EC469Afternoon04There were three of us that took nail polish for the girls, and we had a variety of colors; even glitter; which was a big hit.  You didn’t have to tell the girls to be careful either, they knew exactly what to do to dry the polish and keep it all pretty.

EC469Afternoon05After the recess, everyone was ushered back into the main building for a special performance from the children.

EC469Afternoon06There was singing, dancing, more singing and then we were pulled onto the floor to dance with the kids…. which was fun, but exhausting, especially when battling altitude sickness.

EC469Afternoon07It was clear that the kids had rehearsed faithfully in anticipation of our visit and their presentation was awesome!

EC469Afternoon08And of course, they were adorable! This little girl was precious with her plate of food; and did you notice, the little boy below has a real, roasted guinea pig strapped to his back?

EC469Afternoon09After all the dancing, singing, and overall fun, it was time to say goodbye, reluctantly we took a group photo, said our goodbyes, and boarded the bus back to the hotel.

EC469Afternoon10Back at the hotel, we had a few minutes to decompress before meeting as a group for supper. The hotel was lovely, more like a compound resort than a hotel, with several smaller outcroppings of rooms rather than a single all encompassing building. My room was nice, but a bit odd (more on that later); and the restaurant was delicious! In fact, every bit of the food was wonderful – and I’m a picky eater.

EC469Afternoon11I was truly surprised at how much I enjoyed eating on this trip – I mean, I even packed single servings of peanut butter and pretzels because I didn’t think I’d be able to eat much of the local fare. And you know what, I ended up donating most of the peanut butter at the end of the trip.

EC469Afternoon12From roasted corn kernels (which tasted like a great popcorn), to potato soup, to chicken any way you’d want it, the food was amazing. And the drinks – to die for. Seriously, Ecuador has the best fruit juice. It’s completely pure, not watered down, no substitutes, just true awesomeness: especially the guanabana mixed with blackberry juice. I still crave that stuff – and can not find it here.

EC469Afternoon13We were also treated to some great entertainment for supper, including this fantastic pan flute player who specialized in the theme from Titanic – not even joking.

It was a great ending to the first full day in Ecuador.

 

Ecuador: The First Home Visit

Today, I’m continuing my series of posts relating to my recent trip to Ecuador. For previous posts, click here.

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After we served the children of EC469 lunch, we broke into 4 smaller groups and went on our first home visit where we would spend “a day in the life” of a sponsored child and “help” them do their daily chores.

My little group went with Paul (pronounced Pa-ool) and his family to herd sheep.EcuadorFirstHomeVisit01From the Child Development Center, we walked down a steepish slope to Paul’s house. It wasn’t a terribly long walk (going down; going up with the altitude was not fun).
EcuadorFirstHomeVisit02Once we arrived, Paul and his family gave us a tour of his home before we started with the chores. To get into the house, we crossed a small, one-board bridge that connected the boulder the house was built on to the bolder that was the yard. EcuadorFirstHomeVisit03Paul’s home was made of mud/concrete bricks and a thatched roof. EcuadorFirstHomeVisit04There was no visible running water, sparse electricity, and only two rooms: a room where Paul and his brother slept, and the main room with the stove and bed for the adults. And yet, there was such love and happiness here. More than anything else, my trip to Ecuador opened my eyes to true happiness, the kind that doesn’t worry about material things or unnecessary stress, the kind of happiness that grows from love for your neighbor and love for your God.EcuadorFirstHomeVisit05After touring the home, Paul took us outside to get the sheep – everyday, several times a day, Paul and his brother, Clever, let the sheep out to graze.EcuadorFirstHomeVisit06While the sheep were grazing, we were able to take in the beautiful scenery. Paul’s house may be small compared to American standards, but his view surpasses any I’ve seen. EcuadorFirstHomeVisit07I mean, seriously, with a view like this, why would you want to stay indoors? I could have sat on this hill for hours and just watched. It was so quiet.EcuadorFirstHomeVisit08And yet, before we could even catch our breath it was time to go. Paul’s grandmother rounded up the sheep, and we asked our final questions.EcuadorFirstHomeVisit09But, before we left, Paul and his family were gracious enough to pose for photos with us. I just love his grandmother, she is so tiny, but full of spunk. She reminded me of my paternal grandmother. 
EcuadorFirstHomeVisit11 EcuadorFirstHomeVisit10

I’m not sure exactly what I expected from the home visits, but what I experienced is something I will not soon forget. I know I expected the poverty, the lack of water, the small houses, the hard labor; but I did not expect the happiness, the graciousness, and mostly,  the beauty I found there. The hope, the sparkle in their eyes, their thankfulness to have us simply spend some time with them – it broke my heart for my own home and the watered down happiness I see in my day-to-day bubble. Do not mistake me, Paul and his family live hard lives, harder than any that I’ve known, but they have such faith, such happiness, that to be anything other than happy with them is impossible. They made me want to spit out the watered down version I’d been serving myself and seek out the pure thing. Which is exactly what I am doing, one small bit at a time.

Ecuador: Visiting the First Child Center (EC469)

On the second day of Christmas my trip to Ecuador, we left Quito and traveled 4ish hours south to Riobamba.

EquadorDay1Morning01

First off, the view out of my hotel window in Quito was unreal, and then, the views from the bus ride were amazing. Truly, Ecuador is a beautiful country.EquadorDay1Morning02

It’s also a country with some serious population density issues – the photo above? Yep, those are all houses. Houses upon houses upon houses.EquadorDay1Morning04

But, when you get to the highlands, you enter a much more rural area, and you just can’t beat the scenery. It’s like God took giant patchwork quilts of browns and greens and had them draped over the countryside. Also, stray dogs are a problem everywhere. It’s universal.
EquadorDay1Morning03

The best view, however, came after the long bus ride – once we pulled up to visit Project EC469 the first child development center of the trip, and my first visit to a Compassion Child Development Center ever.
EquadorDay1Morning05We were greeted like celebrities – the kids all lined up with balloons and streamers waving us into their church and smiling their way into our hearts. And I would be lying if I said it didn’t make me tear up a bit. Something about that first child center – that first view – those faces, you start to see your sponsor child in each of them – and you know, in just a few short days, you’ll be hugging your child, and talking to your child, and that’s what gets you. The realization that it’s about to get amazing and big and quite possibly overwhelming; but that it will all be worth it. Every second will be worth it.

EquadorDay1Morning06 EquadorDay1Morning08So you meet these kids that remind you of your kids – you pour love into them because you’re eager to pour love into your own. You let them know that there is a sponsor out there somewhere who will love them and write them and you encourage the ones that don’t get letters. You let them know that not all sponsors are good at writing, but all sponsors love their kids. You pray that the ones who don’t get any letters will be flooded with love in the form of written words. You sing with the kids, you dance with the kids, you eat with the kids, and you see your kid in them all.

EquadorDay1Morning07And sometimes, you see *your kid* before she’s your kid. Before you know her, you realize that you’ll not be able to give her up. You may have semi-randomly selected the packets of a couple of children before leaving the bus and entering the center. You may have had hopes of meeting these kids, getting great & moving photos of them, and learning a bit more about them in order to convince someone in your circle to become a sponsor. But then you met one of your “packets.” And a “packet” became a very real little girl. A very real, and very shy little girl, named Valeria.

EquadorDay1Morning09And while I knew I was not her sponsor, I’m not sure she understood that – or even cared. I was someone there who wanted to see her. I wanted to visit with her. I wanted to know more about her. And from that moment on, she was glued to my side. We laughed, I drew silly pictures & she told me what they were, we played with stickers and painted fingernails nails, and I was determined to find her a forever-sponsor when I got home.

EquadorDay1Morning10So, when I got home (and even before) I passed her photo around to all of my contacts, there was some interest, but no takers. And Valeria, she had a hold on my heart. I wanted to find her a sponsor, but knew it wasn’t meant to be me – I also wanted to be able to check on her and make sure she had a sponsor that would write and send lots of love – I was picky, but that was a good thing. I ended up finding a sponsor much closer to home – my Mom. After hearing my stories and seeing Valeria’s photos, it wasn’t too hard to convince Mom to sponsor her (I did have to promise to help Mom write the letters, but hey, that’s a small price to pay, right? 😉 ) In fact, Mom just got her first letter from Valeria this past weekend – complete with a beautiful drawing and lots of details.

And after I spent some time with Valeria? Well, that’s when we went on our first home visit…

Want to sponsor your own Valeria? I urge you to check out Compassion International and change the life of a child forever.

 

 

Ecuador: Days 1-2

I have no idea how to begin this post – or even the words to use to describe the amazing experience that was Ecuador. It’s been two months since I’ve returned, but I know I left part of my heart over seas. Some days, Most days it feels like a weird, wonderful dream – that trip I took. It doesn’t seem real. I can not believe that I left my comfortable home for the uncomfortable truth. That I saw such joy amidst such despair. That I actually hugged my sponsored children. I heard their voices with my own ears. I felt their presence, held their hands in mine – and utterly left my heart with them.

There’s no way I could convey the full range of emotions felt from this trip in a single post – so I’m attempting to share in a series, breaking it down day-by-day; but bear with me, these words are hard to write and even harder to share…

Ecuador 2013; Days 1 & 2: Traveling 2,630 miles in 2 days.

My trip to Ecuador with Compassion International started out with just over 27 hours of travel time. Long before I actually took off, I decided that I wanted as few flights as possible – solely for the purpose of reducing the risk of lost luggage. You see, I had 2 checked bags, 1 carry-on, and 1 “personal item.” I packed all the important gifts in the carryon, shoved the bare necessitates of clothing and hygiene items in the personal bag, and had the other 2 checked bags stuffed to their max capacity with gifts, clothes, gifts, shampoo/conditioner, gifts, and more gifts. I wanted the risk of losing a bag to be as small as possible – which means I’d need a direct flight to Miami and that’s easier said than done when you’re flying from rural Arkansas – but it’s not impossible.

St.LouistoMIAI ended up taking a small regional flight to St. Louis, MO; where I was able to catch a direct flight to MIA, but booking that regional connecting flight was a nightmare. The airline was in the process of redoing their flight-times and until 3 weeks before I needed to fly they were telling me they couldn’t book my ticket. I actually ended up buying tickets from two different airlines leaving from two different airports for this trip. It was a mess – and honestly, I was praying it was not an indicator of the luck ahead of me. It was clear to me that the Devil was doing his best to fluster my senses and hinder this trip. But sometimes, knowing that becomes a fierce motivator for pushing back – if there are forces that strong trying to prevent me from going – there must be something incredible waiting for me – and boy was there ever.

4amThe down side to booking a direct flight out of STL? The flight was a 6:30am – meaning I had to fly into STL the night before, then wake up at 4am to be at the airport at 4:45am to catch the 6:30am flight. To the makers of 4am – you are not my friend. (and clearly I am NOT a morning person). But, I dragged by drowsy butt out of bed and hauled my 4 bags to the airport. BaggageCart

That being said, If you find yourself traveling with Compassion International, and you are by yourself, AND you have a ton of bags, by all means PLEASE invest in a baggage cart. I spent a measly $5 to rent a cart to transport my 4 bags from the pick-up to the drop-off and it was worth every penny. My bags were heavy and I mean HEAVY – they were as full as I could get them without going over the weight limit. Have you tried navigating a busy airport with 4 maxed-out bags, 2 of which do not have wheels and the other two don’t really want to cooperate? It’s a mess. On the upside, about halfway through the airport in MIA I realized that one of my checked bags did indeed have wheels, and that I could strap it to the larger bag for a slightly easier transportation experience.waitingforgroup

Once in Miami, all I had to do was wait… and wait… and wait. I arrived in Miami around 10am and the flight to Quito left at 3:30pm. So, I did what any good traveler does – I explored the airport, ate my last “american” meal, and bought a few last-minute “oops I forgot to pack” items.  elephantpillow…including this cute elephant pillow – which was awesome. I quickly learned on the flight from STL to MIA that a neck pillow was definitely needed and when I left my gate to get my baggage and re-check it for the international flight, I spotted this cute fellow at a shop. I didn’t know how much time I had to claim my bags and recheck them so I made a mental note of the price of the pillow and decided to compare it against other pillows on my way to claim my bags. Once I claimed and then re-checked my bags, I was completely turned around and spent the next hour trying to relocate the ONE shop with the elephant pillows – turns out they were the cheapest option & the cutest! Thankfully I finally found the shop, purchased my new buddy, and located the gate where I was supposed to meet the rest of the group traveling with Compassion.

Honestly, despite being a total, 100% introvert, I never felt reservations about traveling with this group of strangers; and from the minute I met them all I felt welcomed and excited to be traveling with this group. There were several “single” travelers, and a ton of Compassion workers. There were travelers from all walks of life and all backgrounds – and it was wonderful to interact and share this experience with each one of them.

Quito

Initial introductions and one 4 hour flight later, we caught our first glimpse of Quito – mountains! Which is quite a shock if you’re used to flat, just-above-sea-level farm ground. Let me tell you, it’s a bit disconcerting to see the snow-capped mountain peak just outside your airplane window before you’ve started a real descent. Once we landed, regrouped, claimed all our bags, and went through customs, we boarded a charter bus bound for the hotel. Surprisingly, it was a chilly 60°F (especially when it was 90°F at home) when we landed; and quickly dark. The charter bus was nice, but, like all buses in Ecuador – had no air conditioning (and you didn’t need it – the weather is notably temperate year-round).

The drive from the airport to the hotel took about an hour, and along the ride we were introduced to our local guides, and treated to some of Ecuador’s finest exports – chocolate! We were also peddled bottled water like it was going out of style. (Which was a good thing – especially when you find yourself going from an elevation of 279 feet to 9,350 feet. Elevation sickness is real folks, it’s totally real. Drink lots, and lots, and lots of water – starting about a week before you leave your house. Drink a bottle of water every chance you get (and pack camping toilet paper). Also, over the counter migraine meds helped me and are worth sticking in your bag.hotelroom1On a positive note, the hotel was easily the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed in – we were treated to local fruit juice when we checked in (if you ever get the chance, guanabana is seriously amazing (an pronounced Wah-Nav-Ah-Nah – think “rhymes with Phenomenon”)… and now I’m seriously craving it. Great….) Another Ecuadorian export: roses. Big, beautiful, amazingly fragrant roses. $2 a dozen. Seriously. And we got a free rose every night – right there on the pillow – right next to a piece of chocolate. Roses and chocolate – um yes, please! hotelroom2At this point, it’s also worth noting that I’m an introverted only child – which boils down to: I don’t share rooms well for extended periods of time – But I had a roommate on this trip and it was a perfect match. How could I tell? The first thing my new roommate, Becky, asked me was “how do you feel about white noise?” And what ran through my mind? “Yes! I found my people!” Seriously, Becky was great. She was clearly a fellow introvert and that was perfect. We could retreat to the room and know that it was a safe, quiet space. I could not have picked a better roommate if I had tried. hotelbathroomIt’s amazing how much you forget in a few short weeks. I honestly do not remember much about the time spent in the hotel that first night. I know we repacked our bags – we were heading to Riobamba the next day and would not need to take all of our bags with us. Compassion had arranged for us to be able to leave any unnecessary luggage in storage until we return to Quito a few days later – which means I halved my bags; leaving all the gifts for my sponsored children, and about half of my clothes in Quito. Other than that, I’m at a loss. I should have journaled more while I was there – but I couldn’t find the words. I don’t even remember if I slept well – but I’m thinking I did. The bed was super-firm and sooooo comfortable. Firm beds for the win!

I remember being excited for the days ahead and wishing they would both come fast and pass slow – this was an experience that I couldn’t wait to have, but didn’t want to end; and thankfully, it was just beginning.

For Deb, Who Made a Difference and Made a Little Boy’s Life.

 

Before arriving at EC420, my wonderful friend, Deb, decided to sponsor an additional child from the project. Below are several photos from their meeting. 

DebChild1

The boy was so excited to be sponsored, to be chosen, – he even waited for us as we left the project for a bit and went on home visits. When my group returned earlier than Deb’s, her child met us at the door, eager to be reunited with his new sponsor.DebChild3 DebChild2 DebChild4

The best part, though? He blew kisses to her as our bus left the area. Truly the love this boy expressed in such a short amount of time exemplifies the love all children feel for their sponsors – unconditional, excited, and so thankful.

Deb, I was so blessed by you on this trip – I hope these photos bless your day and I pray your sponsorship blesses both you and your child beyond imagine. 

 

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DarwinSmWant to help a child in EC420? Darwin is still looking for a sponsor. I have his packet until Friday – let me know if you’d like more information and I’ll happily answer any questions I can.

 

 

Mothers Making a Living in EC420

Compassion Project EC420, Darwin’s Project, is fortunate to house not only a Child Sponsorship Program but also a Child Survival Program. The Child Survival Program is much like a prequel to the Sponsorship Program, educating the mother or primary caregiver, before and after her child is born, about providing critical care during the earliest years. What’s more, the program teaches the moms a trade skill, empowering them to earn additional income and support their families.

MomCrafterEC420

Let me tell you, these ladies are talented. The beautiful mother pictured above, she made that scarf I’m wearing.

GoodsforSalein420

And that’s not all she can do. The ladies also knit child-sized sweaters; string beautiful beaded necklaces and earrings; crochet handbags, ponchos, and scarves; create their own shampoos, and sew fleece child-sized pant sets, printed fleece blankets, and fleece scarves.

2GoodsforSalein420

Ready for the shocker? The shampoos are $1 per bottle. The ponchos are $5. The earrings are $0.50 a pair. The necklaces? $1-$2. Seriously. All of that time, all of that effort – $5. But you know what? That $5 might mean her family gets meat at their meal, a toothbrush for each member, warm blankets for the baby, or so much more that we take for granted everyday.

sewingroom420In this way, Compassion is not only providing the mothers with essential Early Childhood Development Education, they are providing tangible ways for the mothers to take charge of their own situations – all while sharing hope and love through spiritual teaching and faith-based learning.

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DarwinSmWant to help a family in EC420? Darwin is still looking for a sponsor. I have his packet until Friday – let me know if you’d like more information and I’ll happily answer any questions I can. Interested in sponsoring a Mother and Child? Click here to read more about Compassion’s Child Survival Program.