For eight months starting this September, I will be living in a small community in the Amazon and working as an apprentice with a local organization in Ecuador. This blog is an introduction to what exactly I’ll be doing.
This is my first post for the blog that I’ll be keeping during my year in Ecuador. By writing down and sharing my experiences, I hope to give myself a chance to learn through introspection, provide others with a window into my life here, and maintain connections to friends and family scattered across the world.
I would like to address a pressing question that, until very recently, I didn’t have an answer for. Upon telling people of my plans for the 2015/2016 year, almost every time their first inquiry would be “So, what’ll you be doing in Ecuador?” to which I would automatically respond with a “I’ll find out when I get there!” sort of reply.
Upon reflection, my answer was true in a literal sense: I don’t know what I’ll be doing, with whom I will be living, nor even where I will be placed. However, after attending Pre-Departure Training (PDT) with Global Citizen year, I realized that I had not considered the deeper, figurative connotation of people’s questions; that when people asked “So, what’ll you be doing in Ecuador?” the thing people really wanted to know was What on earth will you be doing in Ecuador? – In other words, what was my purpose for going to Ecuador and what could I really be hoping to achieve? To be honest, I hadn’t really considered those daunting questions myself until the answers were provided to me in PDT, which contained a series of thought-provoking speakers, inspiring conversations with peers, and reflective sessions with Staff Members.
During PDT, 2 things occurred to me: firstly, that people back at home had no idea what I was actually doing in Ecuador, and, more importantly, that I had only just discovered what it was myself. I realized that when people see me going to Ecuador, they may see me doing the good thing by helping the less fortunate, people living in Poverty, to rise above the grind. I would like to invite the reader, instead, to change his or her perception of Poverty: Poverty with a capital P can be dangerous – it is a concept that is so often romanticized, simplified and compressed and distributed to countless donation boxes around the world. It begs for charity, for sympathy, for white-washed short term solutions. Contrarily to this notion, I have come to seek a new definition of “Poverty” as we see it, to understand its different meanings and its roots – in culture, history, economy, etc. I have not come to help save Ecuador from its “deficiencies” but to learn from it.
How so, you may ask? Well, Who is really helping who? I would ask in reply. Is it truly within my abilities to change, or even “save” a community I don’t understand with the skills I don’t have? At the end of the day, what I can offer to my community is similar to one of an infant – I cannot speak the language fluently, nor do I have many professional skills to offer. What I can do is to acknowledge the questions that arise from the very first day I begin living and working within the community. I can talk with my family, chat with my host community, but most of all listen. Listen and give the people a voice, to the extent that they may share the intricacies and nuances of the community, and that I may share my empathy and compassion in return. By engaging myself and observing and learning about how the community functions, only then can I begin to learn how to provide local, simple solutions to local problems.
This is not a charity trip; I am not going to a small community in The Amazon to solve its issues. It is not my place. Just as I have not come to give them my sympathy but to offer my empathy, I am not by any means my community’s savior but its student.
A quote shared by A Staff Member from Global Citizen Year:
“More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.” (Henri Nouwen)
A huge thanks to the various inspiring people who spoke during Pre-Departure Training; many of their ideas are represented here in this blog.
An article that really resonates with me (read after this blog was written):
I do, finally, know what I will be doing now in Ecuador. I will be living in “San Pedro de Acuaparte”, a riverside indigenous community in The Amazonian Rainforest within the Ecuadorian Region of Napo.
My apprenticeship will be primarily be working with the “Asociacion de Mujeres Sinchi Warmi”, a non-profit women’s organization whose mission is to generate income through tourism while promoting and sustaining the indigenous people’s cultural and environmental heritage.