By: CAITLIN SALVINO
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Angelika and Sylvia kept asking me, “Why are you crying? Why are you crying?” in their quick Spanish that I struggled to follow. I didn’t know how to respond to them. How could I explain to these two seven year olds how much they had impacted my life? In my broken Spanish no less!
This all began Tuesday morning while making our final ascent to the community of Shuid. Even though in my head I knew that today was our last day helping with the school and playing with the kids, it hadn’t yet hit me emotionally. So I sat quietly on the bus admiring the breathtaking landscape, wondering how today would end and not even able or ready to picture myself saying goodbye.
In the morning I worked on filling in the final foundation of the school as a cement mixer and I’m proud to say that by lunch time we had filled up almost the whole foundation with cement, leaving our legacy on the high school to be continued by future groups and community members.
We then attended a lovely ceremony put on by the teachers and their students. The grade one students recited a poem to us, the grade two students sang us a song, and we did a group dance and played some final games (such as potato sack and wheelbarrow races). It ended with each of the students giving us a handmade card saying thank you for building the school.
After their thank you ceremony for us we surprised them with a thank you of our own. We lined up and sang “Waving flag” by K’ Naan. I will never forget how quiet the courtyard got. Over 200 kids who had done nothing but run around yelling and laughing for the past seven days became silent. It was the best way for us to show them our gratitude for their hospitality and how much they impacted us.
After our song, the day was coming to a close and we realized that this would be the last time we ever get to see these children that we had bonded with for the past seven days. That morning, another one of the volunteers, Lauren, and I wrote a note for the children of Shuid saying:
Thank you for your hospitality! We’re Canadians. We hope you like the new high school!
We will miss you
They loved that note. They all crowded around it, each of them reading it out loud, then looking up at me and smiling. Eventually one of them ran away with it into the classroom to show even more of their friends. I never saw that note again, but I hope it ended up somewhere where kids can read it for years to come and remember when we visited their community, spent hours playing with them, and days helping build their high school.
We began to say goodbye, give them hugs and say thank you. The kids didn’t understand that this was the last time we’d be seeing them because they kept saying, “hasta luego,” which means “see you later” in Spanish. It was then that I began to cry because I was so moved. In that moment, everything I had seen and experienced in Shuid hit me.
I realized how unfair the world really is. You read about poverty and inequality in books and articles, but it always seems so far away. But you can’t truly understand it by reading facts and numbers about the number of children living in poverty or without access to clean water and primary school. Seeing it yourself and meeting the people who are most affected is the best way to get a real picture of the conditions in which over one billion people around the world are living in.
The thing that impacted me the most was the fact that in a few days I’ll be home in Canada, a country with immense wealth – something that I only noticed after visiting Ecuador. I now understand how privileged we are in Canada for everything- water, free primary education, our food variety, a warm bed, and access to unlimited information through the internet. The children I met, like Angelika, Sylvia, Paula, and Jesus have taught me so much that has completely changed my view of my own life and the world. I cried because I wish I could give them more. I wanted to give them everything I had brought- the clothes off my back, my wallet, my bag, and even more of my time because I knew no matter how much I give them, it won’t make a dent in my wealth back home in comparison to how much it would significantly affect their lives. That’s what the craziest thing is; just how huge the poverty gap is. I know that the work we did building a high school in Shuid won’t eliminate this gap, but I hope it improves the lives of the children I met. If even one child escapes the cycle of poverty in Shuid through education it’ll make all of our hard work and time worth it.
After saying goodbye we loaded onto our bus and began the descent down the mountain through Shuid for the last time. This time driving down the mountains, many of the kids from the school were lined up on the side of the road waving goodbye to us. This is the best example of the bond we formed with these children. On the first day most of them were too shy to wave back at us, but seven days later they’re all waving and yelling goodbye. And so I waved goodbye to the children of Shuid for the last time in my life, grateful to have been invited into their lives for the past seven days, but wishing I could stay much longer.