After several months of preparation, the day of departure arrived. I couldn’t believe I was actually going to volunteer in the kind of place I had only ever seen on TV. I had decided I wanted to volunteer like this when I was about 7. My dream was finally coming true. It’s hard to explain the feeling caused by first seeing the lights of Ecuador from the plane window. The joy was beyond measure. There was this kind of peaceful feeling that took over. The feeling of being exactly where I was supposed to be, at the time I was supposed to be there. After the long journey of flights, bus rides, and a boat ride, we finally landed, as a team, in Onzole. Growth had already occurred within me. The seven-year-old me received a mental high-five, as I hopped out of the boat and onto the muddy earth of the community I’d call home for the next ten days.
Even though you could think of Ecuador as a dangerous place to travel, I wasn’t worried about my safety. I trusted Venture 2 Impact because they gave me a chance to become acquainted with them before the volunteering began. They had planned volunteer trips like this many times before. The Venture 2 Impact cofounders were well acquainted with the nonprofit, The Onzole River Project, already working in the community. They were well educated about the community and its members before deciding to journey there. After communicating with Venture 2 Impact for several months, before departure, I knew I was in good hands.
Each volunteer was assigned to a host home. Several families in the community offered to host the volunteers for a day to teach us about the ways of life for the men and the women of the community. I did laundry in the river, made cocoa, and cooked dinner with the woman who hosted me. I got to see what a day in the life of a local was like and that was a wonderfully unique experience. The people of Onzole seemed genuinely happy and curious about their guests. Many people waved and attempted to speak English with me! The genuine hospitality was beyond what I could have imagined. Even when I slipped and fell in the mud, many locals tried to hold back their laughter and came running to the rescue!
V2I has a goal that resonates with me: we weren’t there to change the way the people in this community lived their lives or force our western values on them. We were there to learn from them and offer resources upon their request. We brought laptops for their community center that was accessible to everyone, English classes were provided to teenagers, and reading and writing activities were provided to the younger children. These were all resources that were requested by community leaders, so I knew what I was doing was wanted and valued.
Children were my focus. I spent my time in Onzole reading, drawing, and leading classroom activities for the children. Children in the community were excited to join us on the walks to and from the library and often lead us by hand. By nature, children are curious. We tend to lose that basic curiosity as we grow older and lose touch with our dreams. What I hoped to do is get them excited about school and spark curiosity about the world outside of where they are growing up. Maybe then they could be the bridge between their own community and outside resources in the future. They met me and they had so many questions (even though I couldn’t speak enough Spanish to answer them all). Showing that I cared so much about reading and learning, maybe they will take that influence and learn as much as I have. Maybe one day they will accomplish their dreams too. Their lives weren’t visibly changed in ten days. Only time will tell how my presence impacted them but I’m sure it did! I know it impacted me.
By: Angela Duhart