My first week of summer was one I had never envisioned myself experiencing prior to my years at Dominican Academy. My teachers, Ms. Katie Leo and Ms. Lindsey Sudeikis, 11 fellow classmates and friends, and I traveled to Duran, Ecuador, on an immersion trip. My experience is one that is very difficult to convey in a few paragraphs, and even more so when venturing to explain to loved ones at home that we were not going to Ecuador to "do," necessarily, but to "be." I think this distinction is a tricky one to make at first, but is essential to differentiating my trip from conventional service trips.
Every day, we visited a neighbor's home and the hospitality with which we were met was of a caliber that just is not found often in New York. I was taken aback by the ability of Ecuadorians such as Francisca, Lupe, and Pastora to let perfect strangers into their home and speak to us as if we were old friends. We conversed about family, future aspirations, and even the way the United States is portrayed throughout pop culture (the latter which particularly struck a cord with me, because through the little bit of exposure Ecuadorians receive from American television, we are primarily associated with teen promiscuity and a cold attitude towards others). Equipped with this knowledge, I was determined to embrace the warmth that I was given and bring it with me wherever I go. Later in the trip, we visited Damien House, a Hansen's disease hospital in central Duran, completely run on donations. Many of the patients we met were in poor physical condition, and in multiple cases, shunned by their families because leprosy is considered a marking of the devil. Still, these people consistently found the good in everything. Similarly, the children with whom we played in the after school programs were the sweetest, even though several experience on top of the usual struggles of poverty, the sting of domestic abuse and child abuse. Abuse is so casually mentioned among the volunteers, because it is the norm there, which is, needless to say, a great tragedy. Malnourishment is widespread, but the children only want a playmate, a new friend, and attention that fosters love.
Ecuador is a place that I miss. I have never appreciated my own life more, and never have I been exposed to such happiness, such spiritual wealth than I had there. My most important duty at this point is to share as many of the stories I have of Arbolito, Duran, that I can and to recognize the poverty that is rampant in the United States as well. I am honored to have met such influential people that fly under the radar, and so grateful to know them by name. No material situation can ever label an individual as inferior for during my trip, I realized that the poorest in Ecuador are the richest in the world.