Tuesday, August 16, 2011

ecuadorable chillens and various reflections

I'm back in the States! 
This would be exciting news had I not actually arrived home over a month ago.

Sorry for the delay in posting this, although I actually have something exciting to share!

an ESSAY! I know-super exciting, right?! I was required to write it for my school.. it's just me "reflecting" on some of my Quitanian adventures.

If you're a super nice person and actually feel compelled to read my essay, please feel free to leave any suggestions! I'm not quite finished editing, so if I misspelled something or if I simply fail to make sense please oh please let me know. 

I know it may be a little dry, but I'll try to keep it entertaining by sprucing it up with some pictures of ecuadorable chillens. 

here goes..

Funny thing about this picture- the boy on the right gave me the finger seconds after this picture was taken. He was a bit perturbed that I wouldn't let him hold my camera.

Reaching for a Smile

Having only returned from Ecuador a month earlier, I have made little progress in making sense of my collective experiences. I journeyed to Ecuador in the hopes of instigating some sort of positive change on the lives of the children there, and maybe by extension the Ecuadorian community. Thus, I was not only motivated by my own desire to contribute to the global community, but I was also pursuing a soul-enriching experience of sorts that I hoped would lead to the next step of my self-actualization. I soon discovered I had hugely underestimated the essential processes that must be undergone in order to bring about change in a community. I came to realize that the children I worked with, perpetually trapped in the markets of Quito for over twelve hours a day, affected a greater change in me than I did for them. In my naivety, I had hoped—or rather, expected—to see some sort of tangible evidence that I had marginally affected the lives of the market children. I realize now, however, that my overall vision was too limited and self-serving. After seven weeks of working with, playing with, and loving these children, I eventually came to measure my success in the markets by small moments of elucidation rather than tangible results.

The children themselves lived in unforgiving destitute conditions unlike anything I had previously seen. They scrape by in an impoverished environment by emotionally detaching themselves from their surroundings, remaining stone-faced throughout the day. From a safe distance many children would watch our activities, only too aware of the transience of the happy experience. Despite the fact that this was not my first encounter with children who are the product of third-world poverty, I had never before seen children so reluctant to smile. However, what I found most perplexing was their yearning for closeness; they would sit with me, put their heads on my lap, hold my hand, or ask to be picked up—all the while totally expressionless. This paradox utterly bewildered me. It was as if they believed happiness could only be ephemeral, but desired it nevertheless. When they smiled, for just a brief moment they were simply children, happy to be playing singing and dancing with strange adults who inexplicably loved them. Through these children, I learned to cherish those rare moments that I reached for a smile and found one. 

The market children hold little emotional significance for their parents, who oftentimes find purely economical value in them. They arrive at the markets each morning around five each morning and work over twelve hours a day alongside their parents. These children are therefore not enrolled in school and instead don child-sized aprons—which would only be worn by children in the United States for a simple game of dress-up. However, unlike games of pretend in the United States, the aprons hold only practical significance for the market children. Many parents recognize the potential children have for earning money for the family and teach them to skillfully pickpocket unsuspecting “gringos,” or fair-skinned foreigners passing through the markets. They also understand that children are more likely to earn foreigners’ sympathy; their children wander through the streets, oftentimes at night, selling gum and cigarettes, the parents using their child’s pitiful state to their monetary advantage. 

Halfway through my time in Ecuador, I began to question the true impact of UBECI—the organization I was volunteering with. After three weeks of doing the same puzzles, singing the same songs, and relentlessly reviewing the same colors over and over and over again, I wondered how much change this method could really instigate. I couldn’t understand how this could break the inevitable, cyclical nature of their existences; they would grow up uneducated—although they may recall the colors we drill into their heads—and in all likelihood, grow up to run their own stall in the market, like their parents before them. 

However, through small moments of clarity I eventually came to value the true merits of UBECI. I learned how the organization works behind the scenes, making personal visits to families and schools in an attempt to enroll the children there and ensure a brighter future. I also learned of the importance of a smile, however transient it may be. One day in the market, I encountered a set of siblings who, through their simple selflessness, illuminated the significance of organizations like UBECI. I was given the task of caring for one little girl who couldn’t have been more than a year old. She was crying incessantly, and while I could calm her down for a couple minutes, I was unable to keep her happy for more than three minutes at a time. As I was standing away from the rest of the group, a little girl around three years old walked over to me, her hands outstretched. The baby girl reached out for the three year old, and I learned that this three year old was in fact the baby girl's sister. Then, their five-year-old sister joined us to share the burden of caring for their youngest sister. The three of us sat down in a circle and took turns holding the relentlessly crying baby. At one point, the oldest sister, only five years old, sat in my lap as she was holding the baby. It was as if she understood the responsibilities she had as an older sister, but simply yearned to have the closeness of an adult. She wanted to simply be a child while simultaneously recognizing her role in her baby sister's well being. I realized that UBECI must provide the only real breaks these sisters have had in taking care of their baby sister. UBECI provides these working children small breaks in their responsibilities and a few fleeting hours to simply be loved by adults. 
             My experiences in Ecuador made me ponder the nature of the philanthropic spirit and the intricate complexities of “changing-the-world.” I, like many bright-eyed and idealistic college students, volunteered abroad in the hope that I could bring about a small amount of tangible evidence that I had done some good for the global community. However, all I really did for the children was assist in providing a few, transient moments of happiness that they may not have experienced otherwise. Although I don’t believe I’ll ever fully comprehend the complexities of “world-changing,” I have learned the importance of a smile, however short-lived it may be.  Emerson once said “…To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded.” I thus count my short-lived experiences in Ecuador a success. While I know that UBECI is at this very moment still working to combat the cyclical nature of the market children’s existences, I know that my small contribution to the program will be a part of the organization’s overall success. And for that, I am forever grateful. 

Again, I know I generally fail at making sense, so please let me know if you have any suggestions!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

can't stop the beat

Hello again from Quito!

Although I managed to FINALLY find Wifi, I'm unable to actually upload very many pictures because of the incredibly slow connection. 

I'm no longer working full time with UBECI. Instead, I work in the markets with the kids in the morning and I commute to an orphanage in the north of Quito in the afternoon. The contrast between these two places could not be more interesting. I suppose I had initially assumed that the demeanors of the children in the orphanage would be similar to the children that we work with in the markets, but I honestly could not have been more mistaken. 

The orphanage (For His Children- look it up!) is home to only 28 children- as opposed to other Ecuadorian orphanages that house over 200 children. The children in this orphanage are some of the most open and playful children that I've encountered in Quito, which I found incredibly surprising. I talked to one of the directors of the orphanage, and she explicated that these children actually have better living conditions than many children in Quito. 

These children are also much more responsive to the volunteers’ attempts to play with them. I know that the children’s level of responsiveness is imputable to not only their backgrounds, but where they are now. The kids at the market are completely detached from their feelings. They yearn for closeness but will never smile. While the children at the orphanage do come from terrible backgrounds, their present living conditions are better than what the majority of children have in Quito and their prospects are considerably more hopeful. 

The children in the market, however, really have no hope for a better future. They will, in all likelihood, be sucked into the cyclical nature of the market life and have no choice but to work in a market like their parents. UBECI works to combat this, yet what we are actually doing with the children on a day to day basis doesn’t seem to make any difference. We play with puzzles, read stories, and make crafts with them, but how much good is this really doing the kids? 

I struggled with this thought for a few weeks, but I then encountered one set of siblings that at least in some respects answered this question for me. I was given the task of caring for one little girl who couldn’t have been more than a year old. She was crying incessantly, and while I could calm her down for a couple minutes, I was unable to keep her happy for more than three minutes at a time. As I was standing away from the rest of the group, a little girl around three years old walked over to me, her hands outstretched. The baby girl reached out for the three year old. I learned that this three year old was in fact the baby girl's sister. Then, their five-year-old sister came over as well. The three of us sat down in a circle and took turns holding the incessantly crying baby. At one point, the five year old sat in my lap as she was holding the baby. It was as if she recognized the responsibilities she had as an older sister, but simply yearned to have the closeness of an adult. She wanted to simply be a child while simultaneously recognizing her role in her baby sister's well being. I realized that UBECI must provide the only real breaks these sisters must have had in taking care of their sister. It really was a very touching scene. UBECI provides these working children small breaks in their responsibilities and two fleeting hours to simply be loved by adults. 

Of course I recognize the importance of this, but it still leaves me feeling a bit empty as I leave, knowing that after the program has finished these children have no choice but to simply return to their parents (and most likely, impoverished, abusive homes) where they have no hope for an education or future. While UBECI is a fantastic organization, I wish something else could be done rather than simply giving these kids two hours of relief. This partly explains my frustration with the organization; wishing we could do more for these children with the bleakest of futures. 

In other news...
LOOK WHO I FOUND IN QUITO!! The beautiful Elene Clemens- we hit up Gringolandia, Rusk style. 

The view from my shower! no big deal. 

See y'all later! Until next time :)

Friday, June 3, 2011

you have to take the journey

...well, I guess I technically ¨took the journey¨ 13 days ago... I´m aware of just how late I am updating this. Unfortunately, I still can´t find a wifi spot for my own computer...which means no pictures for a while. Super sad.. I guess I´ll just be saving those for another. Hopefully it won´t be another two weeks before I get back on! Also, please be patient with mah spelling and punctuation and all.. this computadora doesn´t have spell check, and I can´t really figure out this keyboard..

I feel like I´ve been here much longer than 13 days! I really have no idea where to start! Hm... well, I´m living with this fantastic host family comprised of a grandmother, Rosa (the most wonderful cook, besides Momma P!) and her nine year old granddaugher, Aisha, who coincidentally, is sitting in my lap right now playing Angry Birds on my iPod and beating all of my high scores. Awesome... but really, she´s fantastic. and super intelligent. We´ve had some very interesting conversations about discrimination and racism here in Quito.. she´s quite insightful.  more on that luego.
Of course, that whole volunteering thing where I get to play with kids all day is pretty fantastic as well. I´m working with this awesome organization called UBECI. Google it. It´s legit. Basically, what we do is go to a market, set up a tent or play area, round up some of the children of the street vendors and play games and sing songs with them. I really wish I could go into more detail, but I have to save it for another day. I promise it won´t take me two weeks to update next time! I have much more insightful stuff on mah computer that I´d love to share with yáll... as soon as I find some flippin wifi.

I´ll leave you with a couple random facts and things I´ve seen since I´ve been here!

1. I know that mah stepdad is quite curious about what exactly I´m eating, so this is for him.... for breakfast, we have bread and some kind of tea, with the occasional fruit or hard boiled egg. Lunch is soup, rice, and meat. Dinner is soup, rice, meat, and vegetables. Not exactly a wide variety. Mah momma would be proud though, I´m quite the healthie eater here.

2. There´s a church here called the Basilica that is for reals basically just the Notre Dame. EXACTLY the same. quite ridiculous.

3. The market children are unlike any children I´ve ever worked with before. They´re super clingy and are quick to sit in your lap and hold your hand, but it´s SO difficult to get them to smile.

4. Just like in Beijing, many trees here are painted white on the bottom. 

5. Children are not allowed to leave the country without their fathers permission. There aren´t exactly a myriad of great fathers here, so many children are stuck until they turn 18. 

6. There are SO many stray dogs here. I´ve never seen anything like it.. along the same lines, I also saw some dogs, like Rottweilers and Pit Bulls, in the park with their owners training for dogfighting. It was terrifying.

7. This place is super beautiful. We´re over 9,000 ft above sea level here, making Quito the second highest capital of the world. I´ve never seen mountains like this before. 

Like I said earlier, I have a LOT more detailed information (and pictures!) on mah own computer and I´ll share it with yáll the first chance I get. ¡hasta luego!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

¡Emily ha llegado!

No big deal, but Emily is kind of in QUITO. However, she´s not on her own computer. Therefore, she unfortunately cannot share the amazing pictures she´s already taken, nor can she fully explain all the awesome stuff she´s already experienced..

I have pages and pages of stuff on Word that I´m basically using in lieu of a journal.. Internet connection is a bit limited here, so as soon as I´m able, I´ll post a buttload of stuff about what I´ve been up to. This post is simply proof that I am indeed alive, and a promise to post something actually informational as soon as I can :)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

exotic animal sightings and continued preparations

I'm getting my tourist on. 

WHOOO ONLY TWO DAYS until I leave for QUITO! Unfortunately, I still have quite a bit to pack.. which is why I probably shouldn't be a-bloggin' right about now. whatevs, whatevs. 

(sort of) exotic animals

proud parents. 

This happy lil family has been chilling at our house for quite a while now. See how the one on the left has his/her neck down? Those are called effective scare tactics. The one on the right is literally hissing at me. It was actually kind of terrifying. 

However, in spite of their fair warning, I hung around to get a couple pictures of these perturbed geese. Does this mean that whole "practicing being brave" concept (from the previous post) includes making familias of geese angry?

Just look at those cutie-pie goslings..I guess I would be protective of those little guys, too. 

This picture isn't exactly fantastic quality.. but it's my favorite bird of all time- a painted bunting! It has a nest around here somewhere and we have occasional sightings. It always makes my day when I see one! 

Here's a better picture that does the (male) painted bunting a little justice (via Google Images)

An exotic animal indeed- the Morkie. a cross between a Maltese and a Yorkie. also known as Junebug.

Caroline felt guilty about dropping the poor 5 pound Junebug, so she kissed her to make up for it. When it occurred to her that the scene was moderately cute, she wanted me to take a picture of her kissing Junebug. She kept cutting her eyes across to my camera to make sure I was documenting all of the cuteness. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

things I've learned today

I love learning! (especially now that I'm not graded on it, heheh:)) People have all sorts of little lessons to teach you.. least of all when you're expecting it. 

what Rachel and Caroline taught me:

Today, she taught me that no matter how wonderful of an education I get, I'll probably never know as many things as I knew in high school. My tenth grade English teacher warned us of this phenomenon, but I never believed him until now.

It all started when Rachel asked Emily for help balancing a chemical equation...

That simple question she asked made me realize that not only had I completely forgotten everything of or related to chemistry, but I'll also never know how to balance a chemical equation again. EVER. 

It's quite ridiculous to think about the sheer breadth of information we're taught in high school compared to college. I remember back in the day when Emily was a wee fifteen year old, she could balance a chemical equation like it was nothin'. 

The weird thing is, my failure to balance a chemical equation doesn't bother me. AT ALL. My six year old sister randomly offered me some insight into this perplexing conundrum: "Sometimes my brain forgets things. but that's okay. I think my brain forgot some things so I could learn new stuff. My brain would esplode (spelling based on pronunciation) if I knew that much."

love the logic. 

Caroline, a couple weeks ago, trying out that whole "modeling" thing.

what Joseph taught me:

Today, Joseph taught me that sometimes you have to "practice being brave." 

Several months ago, Caroline innocently(?) threw a frisbee intending to show off her impressive skills as Joseph obliviously ran by. 

As it turned out, Joseph happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and he experienced no less than a.. painful collision. The devastating crash left him scarred and emotionally bruised for weeks. He shrieked every time a frisbee flew within a ten foot radius of him. He had, in fact, been conditioned to associate frisbees with pure terror. 

Today, however, Joseph picked up a frisbee on his own and asked me to play with him. Everything began as expected. Joseph continued to shriek every time he saw a frisbee flying through the air (even if my aim was a "little" off and it was heading fifteen feet away from him).  

I asked him why he screamed every time I threw a frisbee towards him and he replied that he didn't know.. he only knew he didn't want to get hit with the frisbee again. 

I asked him if he could try to be brave and stop screaming (to be honest, it was hurting my ears a bit). He replied, "I guess being brave just takes some practice." 

By the end of the hour-long frisbee sesh, not only did we discover that Joseph can throw a frisbee more accurately than I can (yet another thing I learned today...), but he also caught the frisbee four whole times! He was beaming with pride at the thought of this feat. It was really quite adorable.. love that kid. And it was a fantastic lesson for me as well. 

I don't have any pictures of the frisbee sesh, but I find this one absolutely hysterical. He's just waiting to hear back about that modeling contract.

and last but not least.... what stumbleupon taught me: 

It's possible for life to be a Disney movie:


...and so is Cinderella.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

back in btown!

It's great to be home.

As much as I miss absolutely everything about college.. it sure has been wonderful to relax. I've had virtually no responsibilities for the last week.. I think my ultra laziness is partly imputable to the stress of last semester. I also think it's a mental preparation for the (almost certain) imminent stress of the next seven weeks (ECUADOR IN FOUR DAYS!)

Guueeesssss who had a soccer game on Saturday..

This guy did!!

..and so did his sister!

In the middle of the game, Caroline runs over to me and my mom on the sidelines, hands us two yellow flowers she had just picked, and tells us not to lose them.. during the game. 
..yet another example of how my little sister is perpetually in her own little world.