By: REBECCA WONG
Thursday, July 11, 2013
Today was our first break from volunteering in Shuid. We spent the morning at a local market in Guamote. And when I say it was local, it was local. We were pretty much the only foreigners there and it was busy. Our whole trip group was broken into four smaller groups. Each of these groups represented a local family and were given a profile. For example, my group was a family of three who lived on $70 per month and who had to walk 30 minutes each day to access clean water. We were given 75 cents to spend at the market, in order to make a meal for our “family”. Boy, were we stumped.
A total of 75 cents does not go far. We were trying to think of one thing we could buy with this money. Surprisingly though, when we got to the market and took out our trusty (well, faulty in reality) bargaining skills, our first buy was a bag of rice for 35 cents! We were pretty impressed with ourselves! Within the next 20 minutes, we miraculously bought a carrot, two onions, a tomato (for five cents each might I add) and a bunch of plantains. We couldn’t believe we had gotten all this food for less than a dollar. Many families in the area actually spend the same amount on their meals. We were blown away at how resourceful you could be with your money. We celebrated this buy, thinking we did pretty well for a family of three living on 75 cents for that one meal. Until our group leaders told us that the food we bought would be our dinner for the night. And our group was comprised of seven girls. Seven teenaged girls. Well that’s a funny joke. But oh no, they were serious.
In the end, I think it turned out to be delicious! The wonderful kitchen staff at Totorillas made this soup with all our ingredients and then we had plantains as a dessert. All of us were so impressed at our meal – it fed seven people! Just incredible.
While we were at the market, we had the opportunity to buy some souvenirs and a few of us purchased ponchos. How could you go to Ecuador without buying one? They turned out to be very practical (very warm I must say!) and comfortable. They soon became part of our everyday attire.
After an eye opening morning, we spent our afternoon in the community of San Miguel. Free the Children had recently built a primary and secondary school there, which were beautiful buildings. They recently started a water project in the community as well, and all the families have benefited incredibly by the education and water projects. We got to spend quite a while at the San Miguel Girls Club. This was one of my favourite afternoons.
The girls in the Girls Club were between 13 and 18 years old and weaved hair ties or belts called cintas in addition to a guinea pig breeding program. Guinea pig is a traditional meal in Ecuador and so the girls will typically sell them at local markets to earn income. One girl started with 10 guinea pigs and now has over 50!
The cintas typically take a girl about three hours to make and they are absolutely beautiful. The day we were there, they had only 12 to sell to us 26 girls who wanted one. And so, we had a silent auction to see who would be able to purchase one. The starting price was $4 but the girls ended up getting over three times the original price. They were so amazed that we would want their own cintas bad enough to bid on them and were so happy to see that their work was valued so much.
The most touching moment, which I still get teary-eyed retelling, is when the girls were saying goodbye to us. They thanked us for coming to visit and for taking so much interest in their cintas. Their last remark was that all the money that they received would allow them to study. My heart literally broke into pieces when I heard that. To think that the $12 I spent on one of their belts, which is virtually nothing to us, went to give these girls, who are our age, the chance to go to school. It still amazes me to this day to remember how happy and excited they were at the end of that day, just to go to school. It was one of the most profound moments of the trip for sure.
When we got back to our hacienda, we celebrated one of the kitchen staff’s birthdays. It was Carmen’s birthday and our trip leaders got her a cake. We sang “Feliz Cumpleaños” to her and she was so touched that we had thought of her. After blowing out the candle, her and her friends just stared at the flame floating into the air as if they had never seen one before. And it made me realize that at home we have a birthday cake every year. We have a birthday party every year. We celebrate it every year. We make big fusses about the decorations and who to invite. Yet here is Carmen celebrating her birthday with just us, her family and friends. So simple yet so meaningful. It was definitely the most heartwarming birthday party I’ve been to.
Lesson of the Day: Something so small can have a huge impact on a life. Just 75 cents can buy a meal for a starving family. An extra couple of dollars could determine whether or not a girl can attend school for the next semester. A little cake can let someone know they are appreciated and loved. We all want to do great things in life. Yet sometimes, it’s the little things that make an equally incredible impact.
Song of the day: “Open Road” by Roo Panes http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qCkzG0sr7qM