From my time in Ecuador I have learned so much for my future social work career. I have seen the extreme financial situations of those living in Quito and surrounding cities. I have passed by many young pregnant teachers. I have learned about the single parent families and the many different dynamics that it accompanies. I have worked with a mentally disabled student, conducted house visits with families, and met with teachers on behalf of students. I had the opportunity to learn from many different social workers and psychologists at Tres Manuelas. I had the opportunity to work with social work and psychologist students from Ecuador pursuing a similar profession and interest as me.
I even met more than just Ecuadorians and learned a little more about the lives of those in Germany and other parts of Europe. With my new friends I was able to explore and experience beautiful and unique scenery that Ecuador has.
I had after dinner talks with my host mom talking about social issues in Ecuador and comparing the problems to the U.S. and Europe. Those conversations were in Spanish, something I could never have done before being required to speak the language everyday.
I have been back for almost two weeks now, and I already miss the kids so much. I feel so fortunate that they allowed me to come into their lives for just a little bit of time. They made me smile everyday, even when they broke the window, and even when they spilt purple ink all over the floor, their faces, and my hands.
I cannot believe the time I have left in Ecuador can only be counted on one hand. This weekend, my supervisor invited me and other interns/volunteers over to her house to make a wonderful, goodbye ceviche lunch together. I have been so fortunate to work with so many great people, especially my supervisor. After going on house visits, we often sit down and talk over what happened, why a family’s situation looks like it does at this point and time, the cultural influences, and then how Tres Manuelas can help the family. She became the facilitator of Circulo Infantil at about the same time as I came to Tres Manuelas. Circulo Infantil has been transformed from a place for kids to do homework, into a purposeful, child-centered support program. Every week, new elements have been added into the curriculum to benefit the children educationally and emotionally. It has been encouraging to hear the ideas she would like to implement, and then see them put into action. It has been personally rewarding for me to have the opportunity to be a part of those changes, and give my input, knowing the dynamics and personalities of the kids. Tres Manuelas has a wonderful work atmosphere, despite the fact the staff are working with many, heavy case loads. They are positive, genuine social workers, psychologists, interns, lawyers, and doctors committed to helping their community, and I have learned a lot from them.
My supervisor and I:
We broke a window today…oops. The kids have time to play for about twenty minutes to get a little of their energy out before doing homework everyday. Usually I will volunteer to supervise the kids outside, where they play in this elevated concrete patch with a tree, of the terrace in the middle of the other offices in Tres Manuelas (hard to describe and not an ideal playground). Today I thought I was super cool because some of the older boys, who always play soccer, asked me if I wanted to play with them. I was having so much fun with them, even though their ten year-old soccer skills are about one hundred times better than mine. We were playing with a mini basketball, and in hindsight I can now see how this could maybe, not turn out so well. However, they always play with that basketball for a soccer ball, and I did not think twice about it. But of course, in the last minutes of free time, my teammate has a beautiful kick towards our opponent’s goal, and the goal goes right between the pillar of the wall/goal and crashes through the window below. The pillars are hardly any bigger than the ball, but it managed to go through just perfectly. Of course the sound of shattering glass makes everyone come out of their office to see what happened as I am standing there looking very responsible. Yet blame went to the boy who kicked the ball, even though it could have happened to any of us playing. As the responsible adult, who had dutifully supervised the kids by playing with them, I decided I should defend the poor kid and explain it was not his fault. He was playing fair, and happens to have awesome kick. After figuring out how to say this in Spanish, then repeating to however many people that had decided to see what had happened, it was finally understood. Social workers have the code of ethics, and one of those ethics is the pursuit of social justice. Today I learned that I can practice social work values even while playing soccer.
Ecuador is truly a beautiful country. I have said it before, but I love the diversity of places to visit. Last weekend I was at the beach, today I was in snow. Three other friends and I visited the volcano Cotopaxi. Our guide led our hike through a windy path, to an altitude of over 16,000 feet. Our guide does the hike four to five times a week, and left us in the dust as we struggled to breathe as we continued to scale up the volcano. There is a refuge where we sat and rested for a bit, and then we continued up to a glacier. My host mom told me about Cotopaxi before going, and described the national park as something you stand, looking out in awe of the unique beauty you see, and she was absolutely correct. We were in the clouds for part of the time, with incredible views. There is the snow covered peak, and it is possible to visit with a few days and some beforehand training. It was clear on our ascent, and as we went down it began hailing turn to snowing. My time in Ecuador is quickly disappearing. Although I am wiped from the hike, it was cold, and I got a little dirty, it was completely worth spending my energy and Sunday for sights that left me in complete wonder.
There were a lot of germs being shared between the kids in Circulo Infantil this week. I got to play mom and accompany five of the kiddos to visit the doctor on the bottom floor of Tres Manuelas. I forgot how terrifying going to the doctor can be when you are little, especially if you need a shot. Three of the children ended up needing a shot for an infection they had. I found myself holding hands, and trying to comfort a sobbing and terrified girl. Besides the tears, it was a nice change from helping with homework, where I had one-on-one time with each of the kids as they waited for their time with the doctor.
“Keep the earth below my feet, from all my sweat, my blood runs weak. Let me learn from where I have been; keep my eyes to serve my hands to learn.” -Mumford and Sons
The city of Quito hides its poor quite well, while there are outside, smaller communities of Ecuador that are visibly in need. Inside of Quito, the ones in need are kept out of sight. After having a week of house visits, I now know what is inside the colonial style walls I pass on the street everyday. What I had thought were just single apartments or businesses, are actually the entrances to concrete walls of dimly lit rooms that surround an open terrace, a shared faucet of running water, and shared bathrooms. I imagine it must be very difficult to sleep with so many families living in close quarters, walls that do not continue to the ceiling, and having to open a loud, heavy gate to get to enter or leave the apartment. Quito is the second biggest city in Ecuador, containing the both the extremely poor and the extravagantly wealthy. The northern part of Quito is where the wealthy families live. In the northern sector, there are three different, multi-level, solely designer malls within a mile of each other, where the only thing I would be able to buy would be ice cream from the food court. Within a forty minute bus ride, it goes from people who can afford to buy a one hundred dollar shirt, to a family with an income of one hundred dollars a month. The sudden and extreme contrast of living conditions I know can be found all over the world. What first comes to mind is Skid Row in Los Angeles, where the homeless live crowded on the street, yet five minutes away are luxury apartments, shops, and businesses. Or if I dare to take a little more ownership and go closer to home, I can think of how close those who rely on food stamps and do not have medical care are a fifteen minute drive at most, away from my home. As a future social worker professional, I know I must take responsibility in learning about the resources available to my clients because I am committed to believing in the dignity and worth of people, and to promote their well-being. Not just as a social worker, but as a person, I am feeling that the idea of entitlement should not come from the happenings of being born into a certain class or within a border. It’s such a gray, and uncomfortable line of deciding where our rights to worry about ourselves, versus the obligation to care about the health and interest of others is, but maybe the line is a little closer to sacrifice than we would like to think.
I began the long awaited house visits this week along with two other social work students from one of the universities in Quito who are working in Circulo Infantil (the children’s department). Most of the children live close to Tres Manuelas, allowing us to walk to all the visits. Without Google maps, and often an actual address, I am thankful that I have two native Spanish speakers to wander the neighborhoods with asking for a certain señor or señora. Our supervisor has started us out with visits to the children’s families she had the most concern. There has not been a single child who did not share a bed with at least one other person. In just the few visits we have done, two of the children’s families lived in a single room with six or more people. I really believe that possessions do not create happiness or make people better, but for these kids it is an issue of space and safety. For example, if a single mom has a different father for all of her children, and they come to visit whenever they feel like it in their single bedroom, there is an increased risk for the kids to be abused. If six people are sharing a room, space is obviously limited, and I understand why they would much rather choose to come to Tres Manuelas to work on homework after school than to go home. I also understand why we have had problems of parents saying their kids have not been coming home right after Circulo Infantil and linger around the neighborhood playing. The living conditions itself are not surprising to me, but what is surprising is that all of the students living with so many immediate needs, rather than just a few of them. My supervisor has been eager to begin the house visits so that we can find the exact needs of each family, and begin with the fantastic social worker effort of connecting the families with available resources.