Sowing Dreams in Rural Ecuador

In the last couple of months, my apprenticeship position has transformed and expanded to take on a few new projects and activities throughout the week. What has been added to my schedule since the last description of my apprenticeship includes teaching an English course to about fifteen people in the community, working in the kitchen of the community center “La Choza” during some of my free time, and going three days a week with one of my advisors and his team to teach rights and responsibilities, and computer basics to kids in the rural parts of Imbabura, a province in the northern region of Ecuador.

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What I want to elaborate on is my three day per week commitment to teaching outside of the city in the “campos,” or rural communities, as this has been the most exciting and fulfilling project I’ve had the chance to participate in thus far. This opportunity came about when I asked one of my advisors if I could accompany him during his morning job to see what he does. My schedule was such that I had a fair amount of free time during a few days of the week. My advisor’s main job is working for the municipality of Ibarra, leading a project created by the mayor of the city called “Sembrando Sueños” or, sowing dreams, in which the government paid to create a bus with a classroom in the back, full of donated laptops. Essentially, it’s a mini-computer lab on wheels that provides for teaching elementary and middle school-aged kids the basics of how to use a computer, whom otherwise would not have any access to a computer. However, there is another part to this government-created program which includes a session on human rights and responsibilities in the mobile classroom, in which they hired a social worker (my advisor, Kleber) to run these sessions. This provides for about a four hour schedule with the kids, as the first half covers rights and responsibilities, and the second two hours focus on the computers.

We leave Ibarra at 6:45am and drive about two hours each day to a mountainous, rural province called “La Carolina” which consists of vast areas of free land with tiny little towns spread few and far between, usually with populations of a few hundred people or less in each community. We go to a different town each day. The two hour drive through the country side and mountains is just as beautiful every day, as we pass through miles and miles of rich, green untouched land with waterfalls, exotic fruit trees, and free-roaming animals. We arrive to the community at 9:30am, when the twenty (or so) kids in the school board the back of the bus. Kleber and I now take turns leading the rights and responsibilities sessions for the first couple hours, which includes a short movie, and a series of exercises and questions for the students to participate in and discuss. Then a man who specializes with the computers teaches the second half of the day while Kleber, the bus driver, Manuel, and I go around assisting all the students individually with their computer work.

I have been strongly passionate about this new position since the day that I started a month ago. It gives me the opportunity to work with kids that are thrilled to learn; first about computers – something they have lots of interest in but no access to, and will most-likely have to incorporate into their lives in coming years at the rapid rate of spreading technology – and second about human rights, a topic that is not part of their general education but is of the utmost importance. Every day brings a new experience, whether it’s a group of students that has never seen a “gringo” before (a white person from the U.S.), a class of kids who have been treated very poorly in which the social effects are quite visible, or if we even reach the intended community in this large bus that occasionally fails to climb the mud roads once we get off the main paved road.

A video, which is coming soon, to the blog shows a few minutes of Kleber’s rights & responsibilities talk with the kids. It’s in Spanish but you can get a feel for what it’s like inside the mobile classroom, the positive energy among the kids, and the basics of what Kleber is trying to get across. He first introduces the reason we have come from Ibarra to spend the day in their community, then says we’re not teachers or professors but rather partners of all of the kids in the class. He goes on to talk about the importance of treating people with respect, addressing people formally and using their names, and the magic words that go a long way.