Saturday, April 30, 2016

Earth Quake

As I am sure you already know, Ecuador suffered from a 7.8 magnitude earthquake two weeks ago. Although the epicenter was approximately 300 miles from my house, it did damage here in Guayaquil, revealing how strong it really was. It was a Saturday evening and my host parents were out helping my host grandparents because they were in the process of moving houses. Fortunately, they took my 6 year old brother with them. I was at the house with my 8 year old and 13 year old brother. All of a sudden, the house began to shake intensely. I ran into the other room to find my little brothers. I held the youngest brother in my arms and the three of us just waited together for it to be over. The power went out immediately. I never have experienced anything like it! While it was scary, we were so fortunate to be where we were. No significant damage was done to the house and my host-family and all of their extended family were safe. However, this wasn't the case for other parts of Ecuador. Hundreds have been found dead and more and more are found under the destruction each day. Poor beach towns were affected the most, leaving some of Ecuador's most vulnerable citizens homeless. While major cities have seen major improvement, some of these small towns have still received no help even after two weeks.

As part of my program, I was supposed to spend my last week in Ecuador doing community service in a national park in Manabí (the region that was most affected by the earthquake). Obviously, after the earthquake, plans changed. My university here did not give me permission to still go to Manabí, so instead I volunteered with an organization in Guayaquil, Mansión Mascota. There focus was helping animals in the earthquake zone. They were collecting dog food and cat food and bringing animals from Manabí to safety in Guayaquil. I spent the first part of my week organizing the donations and the second part of my week helping at an animal shelter receiving the animals. This was a good experience because I really have never done service with animals. I usually always choose working with kids or adolescents, so working with animals was something different. It is upsetting to have to leave Ecuador on such a sad note. It is such a beautiful country and it became my home for the past four months, so it is sad to see so many people suffering and see Ecuador's economy collapse. Although I have to leave on a sad note, I am glad I got to spend my last week helping in a small way.

Here are some pictures of damage done down the street from my house. An entire bridge in Guayaquil collapsed. 

All the donations!

Also, one bonus of staying around the Guayaquil area was I got to go to El Centro de Equinoterapia one last time to say goodbye. 

I went out for lunch with the other therapists. It was a nice way to celebrate my experience there. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

New Instruments!

Thank you to all who donated to my GoFundMe! I reached my goal of raising $500 and was able to buy a lot of new instruments for the center! I was able to donate a xylophone, drum, small key board, bell bracelets, a CD with a mix of songs, sound books, and best of all a new sound system. With the new sound system, the therapists can play music from the radio or from their personal devices. The kids love dancing to the music and singing into the microphone. It was sad leaving the center on Thursday for the last time, but I was happy leaving knowing I left them with a great gift. It was a great experience volunteering at El Centro de Equinoterapia. I learned a lot of strategies for working with children with disabilities when I become a teacher and I also worked with and met a lot of great people. To thank me and one other volunteer on our last day, one of the families at the center invited us to their house for lunch. It was so generous of them. It was a great way to end my service experience. I left the center after three months definitely feeling like I contributed in some way.

This picture shows the new drum, keyboard, and xylophone.

I made these bell bracelets for the children who cannot hold the instruments with their hands.

Brenda, the mother of Nestor (a patient at the center) made us a delicious lunch!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Hogar del Cristo

This past Saturday, I helped build a home with the organization Hogar del Cristo. Hogar del Cristo is very similar to Habitat for Humanity. The organization is able to buy land and materials and sell it to families who are in need of a home at a reduced price. Hogar del Cristo is an incredible organization because they do more then provide houses; they offer support to these families. Hogar del Cristo works with the woman of the family; key to their mission is empowering women. The organization provides education to these women and their children, as well as help them learn a skill to earn a living. Hogar del Cristo also provides safety and protection for women and children who have been abused. I was happy to volunteer with an organization that does such good work.

We arrived at the site around 9am on Saturday and were done by 2pm. By working all together it went quick! I helped build the house in the morning, and then in the afternoon I offered to help make lunch. I liked making lunch because the woman who was receiving the house prepared the food with us. Getting to know who was actually receiving the house made the experience more meaningful. She was so excited and grateful to finally be getting a house of her own.  However, it made me a little sad because the house does not have running water, a bathroom, or electricity. It is possible for her and her husband to get these appliances eventually, but not until they have the means to pay for it themselves, which will most likely be a long time. I couldn't imagine living in a house without these basic necessities for more than a week. Her happiness reminded me of how fortunate I am.



She is enjoying her new house!

Saturday, April 9, 2016


Last weekend I visited Tena, a city in the Amazon. Now, I can officially say I have visited every region of Ecuador-- the coast, the highlands, the Galapagos Islands, and the Amazon. Both my classes on Thursday and Friday were cancelled, so I had to take advantage of the extra time to travel (Tena is about 12 hours by bus from Guayaquil).  Some of my friends planned to go to the beach, but I figured I could go to the beach when I get home, but I can't go to the Amazon, so I decided to go alone. It was my first trip I have done alone here in Ecuador, so of course it was a little nerve-racking at first, but it turned into a really fun adventure! At this point, I have had so much experience traveling in Ecuador and my Spanish is very good that I figured I wouldn't have a problem and I didn't! It was really exciting to be on my own and figure out how to get around. I found this really great hotel, owned by a family, the wife was from Chicago and her husband was a tour guide from here. After one day of exploring Tena on my own, the husband took me on a tour to see how yuca is harvested and to learn how chocolate is made. I made it home safe and sound and had a great time! Throughout my stay in Ecuador, I have definitely become more independent and confident, so doing one trip on my own was a really great way to begin wrapping up my time here.

On Thursday, I left mid-day, after my service. I spent Thursday night in Baños, which is about three hours from Tena. It was a good way to break up the trip. I was so excited to return to Baños because it has been one of my favorite places I have visited in Ecuador (and it has one of the best food markets!)

These are photos of my hotel in Tena. 

I treated myself to a delicious lunch- stuffed avocado and patacones!

Exploring Tena! Tena is really the last developed town of the Amazon before you start truly entering the "jungle."

Here is a man drying Cacao to make chocolate. Tena is rich in Cacao.  

I took a boat ride out to a little island where I learned about the yuca and chocolate.  It was a great trip!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Help me buy new instruments for music therapy!

In keeping in the Easter spirit, please consider helping me buy new instruments for music therapy! $5 can go a long way!

Here is my GoFundMe link:

Laguna Quilotoa

I had a great weekend traveling to Laguna Quilotoa, which is in Ecuador's Sierra region, about 3 hours south of Quito. Some of my favorite times traveling in Ecuador have been to the Sierra because the culture is so vibrant. It is common to see traditional dress and hear Quichua, the principal indigenous language. Laguna Quilotoa is actually a lake inside a volcano. It was stunning! We hiked down to the lake and I rode a donkey back up. Afterwards, I did some shopping in the local markets. It was a nice weekend!

I stayed in the town of Latacunga before taking a day trip to Quilotoa. It was interesting to see some of the Holy Week festivities. 

I got around Ecuadorean taxi style or in other words in the back of a truck!

The 6 hour bus ride home turned into 8 hours because a bridge collapsed. The bus crossed the river anyway! It is always an adventure in Ecuador!