No, I’m not living in a shack. I’m not single-handedly building a school or orphanage. I’m not building wells or applying some “first-world” knowledge only I possess to solve the major problems that exist. But that’s not what I’m really here to do, and that is not the point of this bridge year. Global Citizen Year distinguishes itself because it is a human development program, not a development agency.
I will admit that I myself may have had similar misconceptions before I arrived. I might have been under the impression that I was coming to a rural town whose people were in need of aid because of a lack of necessities, but I would have been wrong to think that. In Jacqueline Novogratz’s book The Blue Sweater, she reveals her realization that she went to Africa “to try and save the continent, only to learn that Africans neither wanted nor needed saving.” I am not here carrying the white man’s burden, encouraging the development of the people of Ecuador because of some “moral duty to help the poor better themselves.” That could not be more incorrect and would be insulting to the welcoming people, rich culture, and proud traditions of Ecuador to say the least.
I was not sent to the small town of El Tambo along the Panamericana for six months to “fix” things, but rather, to develop as an individual, leader, and citizen and to learn about myself, the community around me, and from those I meet along the way about different perspectives. My family here, consisting of two caring parents and a son and daughter in college, didn’t take me into their home as an outsider here to help them, but as a new part of their family here to learn, which I couldn’t be more grateful for. I wasn’t sent to work in the neighboring town of Cañar to make a profound impact and change everything, but to interact and take impact from the people there. I am here to be a part of the life in my family, work, and community, and I intend to do just that. I cannot tell what impact I will leave at this point, but I can already tell that the impact that Ecuador, its people, and its culture will leave on me will be more than anything I could possibly hope to leave here.
Over the past month, I’ve been focusing on planning how to make this experience the most transformative for myself. I recently prepared my vision and goals for the year in order to intentionally set expectations for myself, and I’m happy that they have already started materializing. I joined a soccer team in my town for all ages, although I am closer to the skill level of the thirteen year olds, but I look forward to improving after practicing for three hours a day for six months. I’ve also stepped out of my comfort zone more, putting aside feelings of anxiety and nervousness to meet new people and have more meaningful conversations. I have the incredibly rare opportunity of having six months to grow in an entirely different environment for the first time in my life, and I plan on making the most of it.