The Next Step

After finishing the first month in Quito, I said farewell to my wonderful first host family, and prepared for the next step. I have been placed in Ibarra for the next six months to begin my apprenticeship. Ibarra is a small, four-hundred year old city with antique-style buildings and churches, narrow stone-patterned roads, and is surrounded by rolling green mountains. The city has a much greater indigenous population, as a number of small indigenous villages are just outside of the city. I am living on the top story of a housing complex with my new host family, a mother and a fourteen year-old brother.

As for a description of my apprenticeship: La Casa de la Juventud (the Youth House) and “La Choza” Cultural Center are a space where Ibarra’s youth meet to express their ideas and customs and to foster a meaningful participation in the policies, projects and programs that affect them. This Youth and Cultural Center offer structured learning opportunities for its members to develop knowledge and skills in four critical areas for youth empowerment – leadership, human rights, sexual identity, and participation – while also providing a place for the youth to come together to practice music and theater, develop micro-businesses, improve their computer skills, and lead community projects. My role in this community center will be conducting workshops, creating community events, and working with the youth on a daily basis involving the topics listed above. I will also be traveling every Friday night to an indigenous town outside of Ibarra called Paragachi. There I will present educational movies and run activities with young students, and then spend the night in the community, to return to Ibarra Saturday mornings.

The weekend that I arrived in Ibarra was during a few of the national holidays in Ecuador. The most celebrated is “El Dia de Los Difuntos,” in which they take one to three days to honor the dead by going to the cemetery to sit and eat among their perished family members. For these holidays I went with my new host family to visit their relatives in Mira, a small rural town outside of Ibarra. During the five day vacation my family traditionally makes one voyage to the beach each year. So with my new brother and cousin, we hopped into my new uncle’s truck and drove four hours to the coast to spend the day at the beach. The drive through much of the country felt like I was traveling through a novel full of tales of tiny villages in the middle of tropical areas that are self-sustaining. Almost every twenty minutes we would pass through a village with about thirty houses on either side of the road, one general store, and one restaurant. The construction of the houses varied by village, as some were just cement blocks piled on top of each other, and some were pieces of wood with piles of brush for the roofs. Oddly enough, among some of these ancient-looking indigenous villages, almost every single one had some form of large speakers that were blaring music so that it could be heard throughout the village. In that four hour drive to and from the beach, I saw scenes that I did not know really existed, and images that will stick with me.

As I have begun the next phase of this adventure, I’ve had to re-adjust my mindset in a number of ways. The first month was full of new and exciting experiences every day. Now that I’ve settled here in Ibarra, I will start my form of giving back. With the set-up I’ve been handed, I’m going to have to really stick my nose in and probably start from scratch at times.

It’s certainly a process, and I should have in no way expected things to be hand fed to me to just dive in and make some tremendous impact. It’s going to be the ultimate test of making the best of any situation that you’re handed. Chloe Bobar, one of the nine fellows here, made a valuable statement to our new beginnings when she said “every doubt or fear can be turned into something positive.”