I was at school one day, working with the other English teacher. We in between classes, and had some time to hang out and talk for a bit. While we were talking, a girl no more than seven years old came up to us and asked for 10 cents. She has done this before, and each time we say so no for a couple reasons. If we say yes, she will come back again knowing that we do have the money, and all the other kids will come asking why she got ten cents and if they can have it too. When she left, the English teacher said “She is too poor, brother”. I suspected as much, seeing as she didn’t always have a clean school uniform to wear to school and was always asking for five or ten cents. Then the English teacher asked me “Do you think we (people in Pedro Vicente Maldonado) are poor here?”. This got me thinking a bit.
As part of the program, we have a few assignments every few months. One of the assignments was to read chapters from a book Voices of the Poor. This book is about the common symptoms of poverty, and what matters most to poor people. When 23 of us gringos from the regions of Pinchincha and Imbabura met up at a training seminar in November, we had a session where we got together and discussed this book and what we have learned from it. When I was asked by the the teacher “Do you think we are poor here?”, I thought back to these readings. I decided no, not really poor. Of course, in relation to the United States and other parts of Ecuador, Pedro Vicente Maldonado is somewhat poor. But almost every house I see has lighting, a bathroom, and kids that seem happy enough living inside. There are a few houses that show how poor it can get, but the kids living on the inside look well fed and always ask me to play soccer with them. I see my students coming to school with money to buy food at recess as opposed to coming to school hungry and tired. They have money to buy their own toys, as opposed to playing soccer with a bottle and pretending sticks are toy airplanes.
I know some of my friends in Global Citizen Year are having a harder time, having to see extreme poverty on a daily basis. Not once in Pedro Vicente Maldonado have I seen an underfed child begging on his steps while his underfed mother sleeps. Not once have I seen a house the size of my room in the United States. What I have seen is healthy kids playing soccer with a ball that their parents bought for them, and well-fed (sometimes over-fed) students showing up to school. I have heard of my friends here in Ecuador having their mothers asking for more money or not being able to afford proper, clean sleeping arrangements. My mother has a working television, two radios, a beautiful house, plenty of money to have food every day, and plenty of money for special occasions like Christmas.
I don’t have enough money to give every student ten cents, and can’t give a bite of my empanada to every kid. What I do have to offer is what they lack. They usually have money to buy stuff at school, and they have enough food at home. What they lack is love in some cases, and a desire for education. Some kids latch on to me at school on Mondays saying “Teacher, I missed you so much” then are followed by 5 or more students, soon turning into a swarm coming to hug me. It brightens my day and melts my heart, but also makes me sad because some of the students don’t get much love at home. My neighbor yells at his kids, then I go to school to find the little girl coming up to hug me. They want someone who will play with them and hug them and make them feel wanted.
Quite a few students don’t pay attention, just talk with their friends until they are released from their daily prison at 12:30. I have made my classes interesting so that they look forward to English, and have some part of each week to be excited about. Every time I enter the class, the kids either start whispering “ingles!” or just shout “INGLES!! YAAAAY!!!” I involve the students and it seems quite a few classes are interested in learning and always ask me when I’m going to teach them English this week. This is partly the fault of the teachers, because they just yell while the kids copy what is on the whiteboard. One teacher in particular yells almost all class, and yells at the class while I am teaching saying that they should pay attention. I once came into her class while she was yelling, thinking she was mad at the students again, but she was explaining the formation of South America in the same tone as when she says they are malcriados and don’t pay attention.
So no, Pedro Vicente Maldonado is not poor. It has so many things that poor communities don’t. What it lacks is what many underdeveloped countries lack. A desire for education, partly due for the decreased need for it, and love in homes. I will try to give those both to kids that need it while I’m here, because that’s what I prefer to be remembered for.