As I sit on my bed writing this blog post, I am currently stuck in my house due to a citywide transportation strike in Ibarra. Not only are the taxi and bus systems not running, but the taxi drivers have also lined up their vehicles to blockade the highway and other parts of the city. My little community of San Vicente is surrounded on all sides, and I have been watching cars and trucks desperately drive around in circles for hours. Nevertheless, these rather unusual circumstances have given me the opportunity to finally write another blog post, and to share with all of you how I have spent a large portion of my time during my first two months in Ecuador!
Throughout high school, I loved to work with children via various groups and organizations in my community. One of my favorite school activities was Catalyst for Success, a nonprofit organization that strives to promote S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education among elementary school students by performing stimulating, hands-on experiments and demonstrations. During the four years that I partook in this program, my passion for working with kids expanded exponentially. I thoroughly enjoyed the expressions of awe that would spread across the faces of the children during our events, and I truly felt like I was making a difference shaping young minds.
Therefore, when it came time for me to choose my apprenticeship for my gap year in Ecuador, I was certain that I wanted to be able to spend my days working with kids. However, I feared that I would get bored teaching English every day, so I searched for an apprenticeship with a greater variety of responsibilities. All of these factors led me directly to Fundación Arupo!
Fundación Arupo is a nonprofit organization that aims to provide integrated, affordable therapy for children with special needs throughout the Imbabura Region. My boss, María Fernanda Ayala, founded this therapeutic center when she was unable to find an all-inclusive treatment facility for her daughter, Emilia, who suffers from a severe form of epilepsy. Now in its third year of operation, the foundation administers care to over sixty children with disabilities, including Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, hearing impairment, language delay, and many more. Parents are able to bring their children to a single location where they can receive speech, physical, occupational, psychological, and psychopedagogical therapy, as well as medical care, with ease.
My favorite part of the job is undoubtedly getting to work directly with the children. Each afternoon, I attend four forty-five minute sessions with the various therapists, where I get to learn about therapeutic techniques for numerous disabilites. As I have worked with the therapists more, I have been given greater responsibilities during the sessions, which has allowed me to develop deep relationships with the kids. Every single child has a unique spirit and getting to know each and every one of their personalities has truly been a pleasure. Seeing their improvement is incredibly rewarding and has been a humongous source of happiness for me here in Ecuador.
My other main responsibilty is planning a monthly event to promote an inclusive community for people with special needs in the Ibarra area. I organized my first event throughout October, and it took place on Friday, the twenty-sixth. Even though my preparations were a little crazy because I didn’t really know what I was doing, I frantically ran around the city of Ibarra to pull off a successful event. Over 200 staff and students from the Unidad Educativa “Ibarra” were invited to the theater at the Central Bank Museum to attend a screening of the movie Wonder. This film is about a boy with a facial deformity and celebrates both diversity and acceptance.
However, the capstone of the event was an inspirational presentation given by my boss, as she sat on stage with her daughter, Emilia. Ayala gave a speech about Emilia’s condition, but also about all the ways in which her daughter is just like any other child. Furthermore, she encouraged students to show love and kindness to those who may seem different. Overall, the event was a huge success and taught themes of empathy to the students who attended. Plus, all of the students were given popcorn, so everyone left with a big smile on their face. All of the insanity and stress prior to the event was completely worth it when I saw my vision come to fruition.
As my Spanish skills improve, I will only continue to get more responsibilites at my apprenticeship. I love that I will never be bored at Fundación Arupo! Specifically, I will become more involved with the parents during therapy sessions. While a child is with the therapists, at least one parent must be present in the waiting area. Therefore, we want to take advantage of this time to teach parents how to better care for their children. I have already created a PowerPoint with information regarding various disabilites that plays on a television in the waiting area. Eventually, I will also have conversations with the parents to answer any questions about their kid’s therapy, as well as to teach them therapeutic techniques that they can use at home. Additionally, once I am more confident in my Spanish speaking abilites, I will start helping out with school visits across Ibarra to raise awareness for the organization.
As I sit on my bed writing this blog post, I find myself upset that I am not at my apprenticeship. It took missing a day for me to truly realize how much I appreciate every moment at work. I wish I were getting to interact with the children and see their smiling faces. Even though my apprenticeship can be challenging at times, I am grateful for the multifaceted nature of my position at the foundation, which keeps me busy and far from boredom, as well as the joy that I receive from spending every day with the kids. As I look towards the future at Fundación Arupo, I could not be more excited to see what’s in store, and I know that my appreticeship will always illuminate my life here in Ecuador!
Here are a few more photos from my time in Ecuador thus far!