By: CAITLIN SALVINO
Monday, July 8, 2013
Today was the best day of the trip so far! We finally got to visit our community, see what we will be building, and meet the kids that we’ll be helping.
Despite feeling extremely cold last night I woke up this morning toasty warm in my pyjamas, winter hat, wool socks, sleeping bag and three layers of wool blankets. I got up, got dressed (lots and lots of layers), ate a tasty pancake breakfast and got on the bus to drive up to our community.
The bus ride was an hour long, through the Ecuadorian countryside and up mountains on a windy road. It reminded me very much of the winding roads I drove through in the Rockies of British Columbia last summer while on my six week road trip across Canada. The views were incredible! Not only did we see the mountains but we saw acres and acres of fields for crops. In rural communities outside of big cities (like Quito) the majority of citizens work in agriculture. While driving past the crop fields we caught a glimpse into the lives of people working on the fields – usually brightly dressed young girls or women and young children almost always unaccompanied by an adult.
We then arrived at the community of Shuid, where we would be working for the next week. Driving up to the community we were going around very tight switchbacks on a paved road. However, to get on the final road into Shuid our bus driver Carlos had to use some very skilled driving techniques, doing a three or five point turn backing up towards a cliff to get our bus around the extremely tight corner.
The community of Shuid is one of the poorest and most remote communities in all of Ecuador and sits at an elevation of around 11,000 ft. above sea level. There are about 280 children living in the community of around 500 people. The majority of houses have a field of crops near or right beside it, along with farm animals on their property. Families in Shuid rely on sustainable agriculture, therefore they produce enough crops to live off of and trade at the market for other needed profits.
The school was located on the highest part of the mountain, overlooking the community. As we were driving to the school we drove through the community and saw the dire situation that they were living in. Many of the houses were only half constructed, missing a wall, part of the roof, or other stuff. This is to avoid paying a housing tax in Ecuador because families only have to pay taxes on completed houses. We saw the people living in the community, the majority of which were young children and a few older women. As we were driving in we were waving to the people we saw but the majority of them were too shy to wave back, especially the older girls. Driving though the community made me realize the true meaning of need. Most of the stuff I have in my life that I think is necessary – like a cell phone, internet or nice looking clothes – really aren’t important. This helped change my perspective on how I view things in my own life.
Once we arrived at the school the head “maestro” (architect/construction worker), Juan Carlos, explained to us the dire situation of this community. During the year most of the men in the community travel to Quito working for over six months to send back money to their families. The women are expected to take care of the house, children, and crops throughout the year (a job lasting from 5 am-9 pm everyday). Due to the machismo society present in Ecuador many women are banned from attending school, community meetings, and face high levels of domestic violence. When we got to Shuid most of the men were already in Quito while the women were either working in the fields or not permitted to help in the building of the school (other than the five or six who have the support of their husbands that joined us in mixing cement).
Shuid already has four classrooms built by Free the Children and the Ecuadorian government. They are now expanding and building another set of classrooms right down the hill from the original schools. Free the Children and Shuid have been working in partnership for over four years and promote sustainability instead of charity, so that in a few years the community of Shuid can be self efficient without any more needed support of Free the Children. This is done by having the community play an active role in the building of the school; they raised their own funds to purchase the land for the new school and find and provide teachers for the new school.
I will never forget when the maestro told us that because of the dire situation in Shuid, Free the Children and people like us were their only hope. He then told us thank you for everything and our efforts which are making an impact and changing lives.
That afternoon we began working on needed supplies for the school. Some people were cutting rebar and I ended up bending the rebar into rectangular structures. These are used to make rebar columns for the bricks. The rebar is bent at a station where one person holds the rebar and the other person bends it using a metal tube. It’s not tiring at all, but it’s tough to keep it all symmetrical.
I really enjoyed our first day in the community. I now feel like I’m seeing and doing what I came halfway across the world for. I really hope that tomorrow I get to meet the children of Shuid, because at home I love working with children. I hope that through this I will better understand their lives and hear their stories.