Up the Nevado

Cameron Kaufman - Ecuador


April 7, 2011

I’ve been living in Cayambe, Ecuador for about five months now. The small city is located in a valley nestled in the shadow of the volcano after which it is named: Nevado Cayambe. On a good day (although this is rare), the ever-present cloud veil lifts, and for once you can see the absolutely stunning mountain destapada (uncovered). So you can imagine how excited I was to find that my new job description entailed a daily journey up the beautiful nevado. For the past few months, I have been traveling up the mountain with my supervisor, Angelica, to visit some really remote schools way out in the Ecuadorian campo (countryside).

Each morning, we wake up (far too) early, and drive up the mountain in a camioneta (small truck). Easier said than done. The roads are in (to put it mildly) bad shape, making our “drive up the mountain,” more of a “hold on for dear life or you will get hurt” sort of thing. Some schools don’t have roads leading to them, which means we have to hike up the mountain through some pretty spectacular countryside. Upon our arrival at the school in question, we begin doing Brain Gym activities with the students, exercise intending to improve and facilitate learning.

There are two main components to Brain Gym; physical exercises designed to activate both brain hemispheres, and mental activities, such as puzzles and brain teasers. We work our way through every aula (classroom), doing both the physical and mental exercises with each one. We have to make note of the students’ progress, for example if they can successfully do a certain exercise that they previously couldn’t. We also talk to the teachers, to see if there has been any notable improvement in the kids’ attention span, behavior, learning abilities, etc. After finishing up with Brain Gym in each classroom, we help out the teachers, as most of them have more than one classroom on their hands and far too many students.

Another important part of our job is making sure the teachers know the exercises, so they can continue practicing them with their students once Angelica and I have stopped visiting the schools. The kids all love doing the activities (one, because they’re fun, and two, because they get them out of class for a few minutes), so we tell the teachers to let the students pick a different exercise to do each day, which only takes about ten minutes out of the work schedule. So far, we have done three workshops with the teachers from all the schools, teaching them a few of the physical exercises and giving them the material needed for the mental puzzles.

All in all, I have a great time visiting all the schools on the mountain (even though getting there can be slightly unnerving), and a lot of fun working with the kids there, who are always eager do work with us.

Cameron Kaufman