Esperanza en Ecuador (Hope in Ecuador)

Brian Riefler - Ecuador

April 23, 2013

When a volunteer embarks on a mission to change the world, he finds he has to confront many obstacles, both good and bad. Sometimes the people he intends to help do not understand him because he comes from a different place. There are days in which the world seems to come on top of him. He falls and cannot get up very easily. With the passing of days he eventually becomes accustomed to the rhythm of the life of his community and learns to overcome his roadblocks.

I believe when each of us in the Global Citizen Year Class of 2013 first visited our sites during the one-week shadow visit in September, we each thought to ourselves: How on earth am I going to do this? Six months later, we feel so proud for having learned and in turn exchanged our strength, care, and love with others. I think I speak for everybody when I say it will be a great sadness for us to leave the world in which we have adapted ourselves to live in so soon.

I unfortunately will have to go through this difficult process twice. Having had to change host families twice and my work site at Jumandy Caves—a place I will cherish in my heart forever—the vicissitude of my life felt akin to the instability of Ecuador, which has had eight presidents in the last thirteen years. When I learned of my third host family I was nervous. How can I possibly integrate myself into my new community within such a short period of time? My worries turned out to be unfounded as my new host parents and little brothers embraced me with open arms, and I believe this unconditional love is not unique to them. Most people who have never lived in Ecuador are unaware of how warm and wonderful the people are here, and I would like to share my experience of this generosity when I went to the river with my family. When I first stepped in the water, it was cold like so many of the other waterfalls, rivers, rain, and lagoons here in the Ecuadorian Amazon. In a backdrop of awe-inspiring mountains and tropical trees, I was at peace. The water was no longer chilly; it was without judgement.

The river reminded me of a quote from a memoir by James McBride, The Color of Water, in which his mother tells him ”God is the color of water.” God and my caramel-colored Kichwa family do not judge me even though I am a white stranger in a land nearly 3,000 miles from home. They can even look past my imperfect Spanish and gringo (foreigner) idiosyncrasies while still accepting me as part of their family. I am truly loved by God and others. I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit just like Jesus did when he was baptised by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. The water washed away the stains of my past and any latent anxieties that I would not get along well with my new host family; Everything was clean again, and the river brought redemption, rebirth, and most importantly, hope.

Hope that my final community project will leave a small impact on the children I work with at a disabled school. Hope that Ecuador can move forward with the recent reelection of President Rafael Correa. Hope for my host mother who is studying to be a nurse. Hope for my friends in Global Citizen Year to make the most of their precious time left.

Brian Riefler