Tuesday, December 2, 2014


After living in Ecuador for almost two years I have come to learn a few things. A few things that now seem normal to me, but I remember were strange when we first got here. I would like to think I have at least a better understanding of the thoughts behind some of these things, but if anything they are fun to reflect on.

Halls can be candy
Eric's favorite street food; grilled meat.
I remember the first time someone turned to me and offered me a Halls like it was a mint or gum. I was confused. Then a second time I picked a piece of candy out of a random bowl of candy to find it had a Hallsy menthol flavor. Interesting... I can't figure out this one. I remember as a kid eating those Luden's sore throat lozenges and my dad telling me that they weren't candy. But now I eat Hall's like the rest (take that, dad) and I'm even starting to enjoy the cool sensation when you breath in.

Here's an up close picture. The coloring is a little off. 
There is a parent of some kids that were in our English club that gives Eric an unopened pack of halls every time she sees him. It makes me think that she goes around carrying a bunch in her purse in case the occasion arises where she needs to give one away.

Toilet paper can be scented
I guess maybe I never thought of this being a necessity before but then again we don't throw way our toilet paper in the trash can in the US. You would be hard pressed to find toilet paper that is unscented here. I've tried. The jury is still out in my opinion whether or not this is a good thing. I'll let you think about it on your own and decide for yourself.

Salad of onions
Eric passing out candy for Halloween at the school.
When we first got in country this is something I never thought I would eat. I remember reading on menus or listening to the almuerzo choices and thinking, "Oh a side salad, that sounds good." I was always disappointed when that salad included red onions and tomatoes or a random assortment of vegetables with mayonnaise. This one isn't really too different from what we have. I mean we do have potato salad, pasta salad, fruit salad, etc. I guess what took some getting used to is that there is no specifying what your salad is. If it comes with a salad, it could be almost anything not to mention only onions. I hate raw onions (although the way they soak them in salt here seems to take some of the bite out). Anyway, now I don't think twice about what the salad is. I just mix it in with my rice and eat it.

Continuing our celebration of Halloween with our town.
Drinks in plastic bags
I remember the first time I got an almuerzo to-go to find my fruit juice put in a plastic bag. I love this! It is very common to see people with to-go drinks in a bag. Sometimes there is a straw and sometimes you just bite a hole in the corner and drink it like a big melted freeze pop. It seems smart to me. The plastic isn't the best, but it takes up less space in the trash. I bet there is a bio-degradable material that could be used now...

Next in line please...
Wait, there's a line? I haven't quite figured out what the order in lines is, or maybe there isn't any. I have to say that it completely depends on where you are, but  it is not at all uncommon to be standing in line to have someone walk to the very front. Ooo this gets me. Something else interesting is when using the public bathrooms often people will stand in front of a stall instead of standing in line and waiting until the next opens up. This has so far worked to my advantage, but you just hope you don't pick the wrong stall with someone who takes a long time.

These are just a few normal aspects of life here in Ecuador we have grown accustomed to. As we think of more we will continue to share them in future posts.

For the fiestas of the school Eric put together a Family Feud style English competition for the students.

Another picture from the English competition

Sunday, October 12, 2014

An Open Letter to Future Volunteers

To You:

I am glad you are thinking about the Peace Corps and Volunteering in general. This is an open letter to you and others like you. There is not a lot of technical information nor is it very inspiritional, but I think you will find it real, truthful, and to the point. Please enjoy because I wrote this with you in mind.

Final Thoughts...First

So you want to be a volunteer? You want to make a difference? Travel? Learn a new language? Help others? Get away from it all? Whatever your motivation I urge you to make sure it is enough to fully commit yourself to the cause.

Sankofia... I have been thinking ahead a lot lately about my life after the Peace Corps. This has in turn caused me to take a look back at the beginning of this journey and what has made me committed to this cause. The decision to apply, the application process, and even the first day in this great country, feels to be in a strange paradox of time. The experience stands in both my long and short term memory. At this moment, I feel a sense of accomplishment for some unexpected goals as well as a sense of frustration with goals that I had wanted to achieve. I have committed to learning Spanish. I have committed to writing more, reading more, eating better, and doing things for myself. I am currently committed to the 27 months of Peace Corps Service. As we get older, time seems to speed up and our commitments seem to pile up as well. So why do we add on commitments that we don’t really need to undertake, like volunteering; especially volunteering for the Peace Corps in a place that is not our home or culture, abstained from normal support systems or the comfort of the familiar.

We added them because they are motivators. They are a challenge. They are the oil on our gears. Often these extra commitments are intended to enhance our lives and volunteering is no different. It is the selfless acts in which the giver often receives more personal rewards than the recipients. I know many volunteers (both novice and veterans) that will snarl at this comment but let me explain. The act of volunteering can be compared to any addictive behavior. When you try it for the first time, whether you like or not, it leaves you with a sense of curiosity and you can’t stop talking about it. Often it is enough curiosity that you have to keep coming back for more. When volunteering you are giving your time, knowledge, advice etc. to people that are so grateful that you are just there.  You receive good energy, a pleasure endorsed feeling that makes you want to do it again and again. We humans enjoy helping one another, maybe not helping everyone but helping someone. And I have found that the volunteer is always going to get more out the relationship. No doubt that volunteer work can be hard, frustrating and even exhausting work but much like exercising there are both immediate and long term benefits to the time we put in. Since I have been here I felt more the immediate and long terms benefits of my service. The smiles of my students, the lunch with my teachers, the traveling as well as becoming a better husband, a more insightful person, and a more informed citizen.

 The Decision to Join

Volunteers sign-up for the Peace Corps every day for several reasons, however many of these reasons change or get lost when they arrive in-country. I saw President Kennedy’s call to service long after I decided to join the Peace Corps. While I believe it is a powerful speech and an awe inspiring mission I have to say that it would not have called me to service today. Instead, it was two simple words spoken in my Intro to Sociology class, “WHY NOT?”

  • Why not help others in way that they want to be helped?
  • Why not travel?
  • Why not let the government pay for it?
  • Why not serve my country in a non-violent manner?
  • Why not use my education to be an active leader in the world?
  • Why not Peace Corps?

The Waiting

It is my understanding that the application process has changed a lot in the last year and half. It is now easier to see what volunteer countries, positions, and requirement are in needed of people. I am sure all new potential volunteers are happy. However, I am not sure how relevant my application experience is to future volunteers. But I would like to talk about the hardest part for me just in case it resonates with someone.  Throughout the application process, there are several long periods of just waiting and wondering; where you would be, what you would be doing, or if you will even get in. After talking with past volunteers this is a list of things you should do while you waiting both for preparation to leave and your sanity.

  1. Do NOT quit your day job
  2. Volunteer and increase your knowledge in the program which you are applying
  3. Continue to keep Peace Corps informed on new things that you are qualified for
  4. Spend A LOT of time with friends and family you care about
  5. Try new and strange food
  6. Get as healthy and physically fit as you can, you will be overly thankful for this later
  7. If possible, save money for trips
  8. Start a blog and tell everyone about it
  9. Read other blogs and PeaceCorps Wiki page
  10. Make a set of self-improvement goals that needs for tools or other people.
  11. Try not to stress too much
  12. If you do not already know how to be comfortable with just your own presence then practice!
  13. Buy a tablet and cheap MP3 player. Get books/ audiobooks, wait to read/listen to them
  14. Practice another language (any language) it more important to learn how you learn language (duolingo is great and free)
  15. Breathe everyday

Being Here

While serving, I believe it is important to remember three things:

  1.  Why are you here? That will keep you personally invested in your work and help you make realistic goals.   
  2. Who are you? This will be you moral compass and help keep you ground to the values that you have grown to love. It also lets you judge when things are not appropriate and acceptable for you.
  3. Who you want to become? This allows you to accept cultural difference and is often the first step to integrating and immersion into the community which you serve.

For me I wanted to serve because I wanted to be a world citizen and serve a community that I felt I had an investment in. I am strong family man; husband, son, grandson, nephew, brother, and friend. I am Christian. I am a black feminist. I am an ally. I am Student Affairs Professional. I am dreamer, artist, and hustler. I am fully here in this moment. I want to become a better man. I want to have inner peace and spiritual knowledge. I want to be a life-long learner. I want to be a great father. I want to be physical fit. More than anything I want to leave a legacy.


Eric O. Aiken

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Thinking on the Future

Eric with our host dad, Pepe, at a community cleanup
Sometimes when work is tough and I am sad, I sit and day dream about what my life might be like in the US. What kind of car might I be driving? Would I own a house? ...Probably not. What job would I have? Would I live close to my family? Close to my friends?

I would be able to attend family events. I would walk to my friends' and have dinner dates like I did before we left. Who knows if the picket fence life I think about would be accurate, but who cares? This day dreaming helps me escape the challenging part from being away from home; the constant unknown.
Eric and I at a concert in the park

I am beginning to realize this daydreaming is quickly becoming a reality. In less than 7 months we will be on a plane back to mi tierra. Woah. When we get home Eric and I will have to make some decisions that will impact greatly our next adventure!

I think the daydreaming is actually helpful because I am able to plan and think about the future. If I didn't do this Eric and I might arrive to the US in March and say, "Now what?" At least now, we have an idea of our next steps. While even that isn't very sure, I've learned to deal with the unknown and plan for an uncertain future. This entails a great deal of patience and a good attitude. One has to be okay with knowing that you can't know what will happen!

Jan and Eric bird watching

Amelia and Jan's visit to Ecuador in Mindo. We are with Angel,
 the birding tour guide who calls the birds by name on his land. 
Feeling the nearness of our return trip we have begun to realize there's not much time left! There are still an impossible number of things we would like to do and goals we would like to meet. Knowing this, we have focused on a few goals we would like to accomplish. We LOVE our town and the people in it. One of our goals is to continue to get to know and spend time with the wonderful people of Pinas. Some of the people here have really become like family to us and so we want to spend as much time with them as we can before we leave.

Eric and I also have focused individually on a few things that we really want to do before we leave. Eric wants to participate in novel month. You may have seen a post on Facebook about his goal to do this. I think it's an ambitious and attainable goal for him. It will allow him to practice his art and really develop as a writer.

Eva after her spay surgery
My goal is to practice and become a better guitar player. I was taking guitar lessons but had to stop because my guitar teacher and my schedules were a little crazy for a while. We just spoke the other day and decided to start up again since both of us were forgetting what we learned from each other (I teach him English and he teaches me guitar).

Eric and I are again reminded of how incredibly lucky we are. We have great support from family and friends at home and now we are at a place in our service that we have developed some strong bonds to our community. We are happy with the service we have done here but we're not quite ready to come home. I think once the time comes, we'll be ready.

Enjoy some pictures from this year. Also, Eric and I attended an event in the park a couple days ago that I wanted to share with you. We made a movie of it because it's a little different than the US. Enjoy!

Here's a link if it doesn't work, http://youtu.be/utrNy8uveiA 

Playing at the old hospital

Friday, September 5, 2014

Trip to Ecuador - Mom's Perspective

After my family's trip to Ecuador, my mom wanted to write a guest blog for our site. We were happy to share her experiences with you! Without further ado, here it is!

On June 16th, my sister Charlette, my nephew Shamarion, my best friend Barbara (who is more like a sister than a friend) and myself went to Ecuador, South America. The purpose of the trip was to visit my son and his wife. As that Monday approached for us to take off, I woke up with butterflies in my stomach. It reminded me of picture day in elementary school or going on a field trip. I wanted to put on paper the experience I had while visiting another country. So, I have given myself a homework assignment that I want to share with my daughter-in-law and son.

As the four of us started our journey at the Douglas Airport, we got on the plane and walked down the aisles to find our seats. I noticed that I had a middle seat and Barbara had a window seat, so who did the aisle seat belong to? I have always believed you never know who you might run into, so always treat people kind and with respect.  I could not have guessed in a million years, the seat belonged to my cousin, Harvey Degree. Harvey was a cousin that I did not know and had never seen before. But if you know me you know I will start a conversation with anyone. That is how Harvey and I realized that we were cousins and that we came from the same “big” town of Cherryville, NC. That was my first experience before I even got out of my own country or state. When we arrived in Miami, Harvey went his way to visit his son. While my crew and I changed planes and continued our journey to Ecuador.

As we got off our plane in South America, I had my second experience. The director in the airport said, "All foreigners to your left". I looked at Charlette, and said I am not a foreigner. She said, "You are now". So, in less than 24 hours, I had become a stranger, an outsider, an alien or a person who did not belong to the place I just entered. Oh well I thought, I will be one of those for the time being, since I do not have a much choice. As I waited for my luggage, I said to myself I am going to see how many similarities there in this country compared to my own country. What are the likes and dislikes, and what can I learn and take back with me?

   I took many notes during my trip, but I have since lost them. After over two months of searching I have not found them. However, I think I will be alright, since I still got excited every time I think of something that I just could not believe. I remember, the first was Wanda is a foreigner. The second would be the sign in the bathroom at the hotel. There was a sign that said, "Do not flush the tissue in the toilet". Oh no!! I had to practice all week because that was something back home that I just did by habit. There was a well prices the hotel, sixteen dollars a night including breakfast. You cannot get that back home, that is a difference that was outstanding. The service was great, but Eric had an agenda for us that only had us staying there but one night. If I remembered the name of the hotel, I would share it with you, but remember I lost my notes.(side note it is was Santa Fe hotel in Otavalo)
Moving on... Day one we climbed hills (Eric says they are just normal streets but didn't feel that way to me) and went to visit the family that took Eric and Emily in on their first arrival. I noticed there are lots of parks that are enjoyed by everyone. You see people playing cards, exercising, having lunch and enjoying each other (yeap!). Now, we do have parks, but they are not used as much as I saw there (my opinion).

One thing we have in common is that we eat ice cream and so do they. The difference is they eat it all the time, in the morning, afternoon and evening and the price is different. I can get ice cream for twenty cents, now that is what I was excited about. Ice cream is popular there and the majority of it is made with fresh fruits.

As day three came around, I thought I knew my way around along with Barbara. The two of us thought we would go for early morning walk and pick up some breakfast, leaving the hotel while everyone else was asleep. We stopped to ask some students how far Burger King was and they had no clue what we were talking about. One thing I can say is the oldest of them did try to show us by waving his hand in motion to say way down there. This let us know it was more than three blocks. We adventured out anyway to find it and when we got there we could not translate what we wanted.  Barbara especially had trouble when she wanted coffee and the ladies at the counter wanted to give her juice and coffee. Speaking of which, that is different. They give you both juice and coffee and back home you get one or the other, not both.

After that, we came out and not realizing it we turned the wrong way. Realizing that we were lost and Eric was probably looking for us we finally decided to stick our hand out and get a cab back because after asking the police office, who did not speak English that was our best guess. We survived and the price was right. Remember we got into a cab and neither one of us spoke Spanish, but we did have a pamphlet that showed our hotel on it. Now, that was an experience.

The next adventure was when we went to the market, one of the biggest markets in South America, I had another exciting moment. You know what we say here, "shop until you drop". We had a wonderful time; I wanted to buy everything at the market. On the way there we saw a big parade. All the streets closed down and everybody celebrated. Instead of them throwing candy they gave out fruit. That is a change from our side of the world.

Some other differences I noticed were:
      ·   The majority of business hours are from 9 to 5 and that includes fast food, an example would be Dunkin’ Donuts. No coffee or donuts until 9am. 
      ·     The average price for a cab is between 50 cents and 2 dollars and you stand on the corner and flag one down. 
      ·     The majority of businesses have a guard at the front door.
You park in the middle of the traffic instead of next to the buildings. Traffic goes one way and the parking lot is in the middle and on the other side the traffic goes the other way. There is someone there to collect the money instead of having a meter.
·     Most of the currency is the same and the bills are like ours. Ecuadorians use a dollar in coin denomination and their fifty cent piece is different.
·      At the bus station, it cost 15 cents to use the restroom and there is a nice person sitting there to hand you a certain amount of tissue.
·      There isn't any wasting on paper. Napkins come one per person, per meal, do not look for any on the table or at the counter.
·      It is difficult when you don’t speak the language. Thanks to my translators (Eric and Emily), because I have no clue how to speak Spanish. I appreciate them being there for me (remember I like to talk and I was still trying to hold conversations and getting nowhere).
·     Is they use kilometers where we use miles
·      You are able to buy fresh meat, vegetables and fruit daily at the market. There are no added ingredients in their food; it is fresh from the animal or garden. The produce is fresh and the quality is great.
·      I would say the driving is crazy, and the pedestrian does not have the right of way like in our country.

      In closing, what I noticed the most is how Ecuadorians all embrace one another, whether it be getting off the school bus, in the park or just strolling down the sidewalk. There is no shame in them showing how much they care for one another. I would say that is one of the most important things I brought back with me after my journey was to take time out for others and let them know how much they are appreciated and loved, whether it is family, friends or a stranger. That is the way God wants us all to be!! If you read this I would like to thank you for doing so, and let you know I am not a writer. I just wanted to share that no matter where you go in this world there are some things that are similar and some that are different but if you go with an open heart and mind, you will see more likes- and LOVE!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Love the Life You Live

So much has happened since I last wrote! Time is flying by. I will try to give you an update...

With our host family from training in Tumbaco
In June Eric's mom, aunt, cousin, and a friend came to visit us. They were only here for a week and they flew into Quito so we decided to spend some time up north instead of coming to our site. It was a good time. We spent some time in Quito and 2 days in and around Otavalo where the 3rd largest artisan market in South America is located.

During their visit we began to realize how integrated we were into Ecuadorian culture and lifestyle. There were things that we don't even think about any more that were really different for his family. For example, you can't throw toilet paper in the toilet here (you throw it in the trash), which is something that was difficult for them to grasp, but we don't think twice about it now.

In the Basilica church in Quito
Another thing that we have grown accustomed to is walking. I don't know if it's because we are cheap or like to walk, but we walked A LOT. I only know this because our visitors mentioned it. ;) In our town we don't have buses so we are used to walking a good amount in one day and maybe it seems frivolous to take a taxi when we are able to walk in a short amount of time. Being in Quito it was necessary to take taxis at times because it is much larger. Along with that, we were careful not to get ripped off by taxi drivers, vendors, etc. In the moment it seems like it is only $.50 or $1 and maybe it's not a big deal. Really the money doesn't matter, it's the fact that we don't want to send the image that we are gringos to be taken advantage of. We should be charged the same price as everyone else and the service giver should have the respect to do so.

A little rain on the double-decker bus. Good thing they brought their rain jackets.
We also have gotten used to getting what you get. In the US we are used to making special orders (without onion, extra cheese, lots of ice, etc.). We have really gotten used to eating what's given to us. In the beginning it was difficult to make special requests and we weren't really sure if it was culturally acceptable. When we usually eat in a local restaurant where they have 3 choices for lunch it is not polite or possible to ask for something else as it is made in bulk and ahead of time. In bigger restaurants it is of course different, but not a type of place we frequent. The most notable of these changes in food is with ice. In the US we loved our drinks to be cold, but here we had to quickly get used to room temperature juice and water. Ice is harder to find, and if you do find it, you may not want it because it's probably made with tap water.
A little fun on the bus tour of Quito

All in all, we had a good time with family. They were able to buy some souvenirs, visit some tourist sites, and see our beautiful Ecuador.

Happy Birthday to Me!
A beach in Bahia and Eva's first time at the beach. She was afraid of the water :(
but she loved running around on the beach.
I passed yet another birthday here in Ecuador. This year we spent the week in the coast on the beach! The beach is far from our house (6-10 hours in bus) so we haven't had the time to visit yet. On my actual birthday we went to Los Frailes, a beach near Puerto Lopez. It is said to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Ecuador (on the mainland, these beaches don't compare to what we saw in the Galapagos). I have to say, though it was overcast and a little rainy at times, the beach was beautiful. The waves were also gigantic! We had to be very careful when we went swimming because they would throw you around. Being a Great Lakes kid, I still am not used to the salt water, but on the plus side the water is warm and you don't have to wait for a "big wave day" to enjoy the waves.

The walk to Los Frailes in Puerto Lopez
Some friends playing frisbee at Los Frailes beach
On the fourth of July we took a tour of Isla de la Plata. We went on a little boat for about an hour to the island which is also known as the "Poor Man's Galapagos" named for the many birds there. I have to say there weren't many birds at all! The guide told us that the mating season was much earlier this year then many of the birds left and no one knows why. There are some ideas that they sensed something was off this year because of "El Nino" which causes steep temperature changes and large rip tides. After the hike on the island and on the way back to the mainland we participated in the whale watching part of the tour. Since on the way to the island I only felt moderately sick and I thought I would be distracted by the beautiful humpbacks, I decided not to take anything for motion sickness. BIG MISTAKE! To my dismay we didn't see many whales; hardly any at first which ruined my whale distraction plan. Then there came a point where the motion sickness got SO bad I didn't know what to do. "Mind over matter," I told myself. That worked for a while. Then we stopped to see some whales. As soon as we stopped everyone looked to the other side of the boat and said, "Woooooaaaahh" as I vomited out the other side. On the bright side no one was staring at me and I felt better after. Luckily the whales came up again and I was able to see them. Wonderful creatures.
Emily and Pamela on the boat to Isla de la Plata

Travel, Travel, Travel, and Travel Some More
A challenge we are facing right now is how much we are out of site. Those two trips that you just read about were each a week long and with only a week of work in between. Peace Corps also has us traveling to do trainings and English Camps with the Embassy. Then we have more trainings and workshops to give teachers in Quito and Cuenca. This makes it difficult to have consistency in our site work with our teachers which we have found is CRUCIAL in making any progress. In these next months it will continue to be a challenge we will need to overcome.

Luckily Eric didn't get sick and was able to take pictures...
We have been reflecting on how lucky we are to have this experience. There have been many days recently where we look at each other and say, "What an amazing life we lead." It is truly great. Even through all of the tough times and cultural differences we still feel incredibly lucky to have this experience.

Thank you for all of your prayers, love and support.

Much love

"Live the life you love, love the life you live."
-Bob Marley

You can see how close the whales get to some boats
 in this picture. We weren't as lucky, but still pretty close!

Friday, May 2, 2014

One and One

Eric and I just celebrated one year in site in April, meaning we have one year left in Ecuador!

Time seems to fly by and stand still all at the same time. It's crazy to think that we now have less than a year left, but when we are in site it seems like time stands still. I think this is partly due to the weather being the same all the time. It is always spring time here! Sorry to brag, I know my family and friends in Michigan are probably jealous after the winter they had (is it over yet?). Sometimes I have thoughts like, "oh yeah, it's insert season here (spring,summer, fall, or winter) at home." Very strange.

Anyway, here is an update on things in Ecuador...

In March we visited some friends who were COS'ing (Close Of Service) in Loja. We discovered an organization called Cielo Animal that rescues animals. I learned that many of the dogs that are rescued are females because the culture of spay and neutering is much different here almost non existent. Cielo Animal rescues animals from the streets and finds foster homes around the city to house the animals until they can be adopted. Much different than in the States where there is fostering AND a building for the organization. We ended up adopting a puppy named Eva. She is the sweetest puppy and we are very happy to have her.
A picture at home of Eva

Machu Picchu
A couple of weeks ago Eric and I met some friends in Machu Picchu. We had an amazing time there! It was nice to see some familiar faces and catch up a little, while also marveling the Inca ruins. The ruins are truly amazing but I was surprised how "touristy" the surrounding cities are. Cuzco economically depends on tourism, but it seems to take the personality out of a city that caters so much to foreigners. Despite this, we had a great time! Some of the highlights were: sunrise at Machu Picchu, dance shows, hidden cafes with great food, and of course spending time with our friends!
Bright and early at the entrance to Machu Pichu to catch the sun peak over the mountains. 
Something else that I didn't think about until we got there was how much walking it would be! I'm not exactly sure how the Incans built and lived so high up in the mountains so many years ago and not to mention how Hiram Bingham made the trek with the natives when he first discovered Machu Picchu. I definitely felt the altitude when hiking and had to take it slowly. It was more difficult than I thought considering you have to hike a good bit upward to visit any of the ruins. Even though it was challenging, the views were worth it.
The sun rising above the ruins. 

The whole group hiking Machu Pichu Mountain. You can see the ruins above my head on the left. 
To celebrate finishing one year of service and to talk and plan for the second year, Peace Corps has a mid-service conference. It was nice to spend time with the other volunteers from our omnibus and talk about our challenges and successes in the last year. I am still in disbelief that one year has passed. We have been making plans for everything we want to do in the next year and it hardly seems like enough time.

Emily with other volunteers outside at the Training Center in Tumbaco at the Mid-Service conference.
On May 5th we start another school year in the high schools. One last school year before we COS and go home in March. Woah...

The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of 60 minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.
-C.S. Lewis

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Alternative Service Experience

When Em and I found out we would be going to Ecuador for Peace Corps service, we thought a great way to way to stay connected and give back to our Alma Mater would be to have an Alternative Spring Break. For me this seemed to be a long shot since we did not know what community, city, or even the type of project we would be working on when we got to Ecuador. However, as Em reminded me it was not so much of a long shot that it would not work. 
Long Shot Project

As many of you know I worked with APPS, a student ran programming board, while I was at Appalachian State University. APPS is housed under the same department that runs community service, Service-learning, and Alternative Spring Breaks (now called Alternative Service Experience). I made a lot of good connections and some very good friends in that department. Anyway long story short, in May of 2013 we got a call from our good friend Selena who worked as the Assistant Director for Community Service. She put us in contact with two very special student leaders, Jake and Annie. Jake and Annie had signed on to be the leaders of a Peru trip that did not work out. They were, however, extremely upbeat and contagiously hopeful about the new possibilities of an Ecuador Trip. Needless to say they made Em and I more excited and gave us the kick we needed to get the ball rolling here in Ecuador. 

Jake and Annie presenting books for the English Library
Having worked along side ASE Grad students and Em and I both being Student Affairs Professionals we understood the importance of letting this be a student led trip. We hoped to achieve this goal by giving students the option to choose everything along the way. A fellow volunteer, Kat, came to help us with the camp as well. However, we were merely facilitators of the trip and happy to take a backseat to see what kind of success the students could have. We continued to work with Jake and Annie along with Heather Jo (Selena replacement) and Terence (the faculty liaison) to come up with the project ideas.
Em & Me
Emily and Kat 

After all the options were laid out Jake and Annie thought it best to do a three day camp with either elementary or high school students. We combined this with the our goal of teaching English and what we came up with was an English Camp with a morning session for 6-11 year olds and an afternoon session for 12-18 year olds. We had over 300 students and over 200 students complete the three day course. All the classes we planned and taught by the App Students. Each night, we held a meeting to talk about classroom concerns, planning, and teaching tips. Em, Kat and I gave feedback on the classes and tried to give suggestions that would improve classroom success. We were really surprised at how receptive the App students were to our suggestions and how they applied them in the class the next day. These App students worked in a classroom with students of multiple levels of English for 8 hours a day and had a great time doing it. It is tough to stay energetic the whole day but they seemed to have no problem! We could not be more proud of the success they accomplished.

"Oh My God!!! I can't believe you missed that question!!!"
Lining Students up for groups

I informed App students that one of the main goals of the camp should be to increase the confidence of the Pinas students. After the photo shoot and autograph session on the last day, Em and I received many phone calls and personal thank yous from students, parents and even teachers. All explained how much the students loved the camp and wished that it wouldn't end. A few students that we had never heard talk in class expressed their joy and said they could not wait to learn more English. The App Students ended their service part of the trip with a school wide clean up at the local Elementary for special need kids in collaboration with the Pinas Cuerpo de Bomberos. This would normally be done by busy parents of students, but even they would not have been able to accomplish all that was done the App students.
All the Elementary Students (120!)

Chris and Annie working a reading assignment

It was not all work however. The next day we spent a relaxing day at Jambeli, an island beach off the shore of Machala. After a long day of swimming, seafood, and a city tour, it was time for the App students to pack up and head back to Guayaquil where they caught a 6:30 am flight to North Carolina. What a wonderful, fast-paced experience it was for both the App students and the Pinas students. For Em, Kat, and I it was a highlight of our service. Below you can meet the App Students and see some photos from the service week.

APP State IASE 2014

Sarah and Lucas leading a question game
Chris and Annie teaching students about animals
Dillon and Lauren

Jack and Jake or is it Jake and Jack...no I'm sure it's the first one

Sara and Rachel playing charades 

Maria and Kelsey teaching some game where you have touch people in weird position!?

Lunch at our Five Star Restaurant... only $3.00

Many students held Q&As to allow students to use their English and exchange cultural information

The last day felt like the red carpet for the App Students with photos and autographs 

This little girl said she was getting everyone's name for Face (aka Facebook)
Patrick and Megan taken a selfie with their Class

Getting ready for ice cream at THE SODA BAR
Oh the selfies...over 100 selfies taken with and without kids

Soda Bar

The App Students did a book drive to help increase the collection of English books at the High Schools

Cleaning the school for special needs students

Getting the special needs school organized

waiting for that morning coffee in our kitchen
Thanks for everything, all love from Pinas 

“You are what you do, not what you say you'll do.” 
― C.G. Jung

“I'm inspired by the people I meet in my travels--hearing their stories, seeing the hardships they overcome, their fundamental optimism and decency. I'm inspired by the love people have for their children. And I'm inspired by my own children, how full they make my heart. They make me want to work to make the world a little bit better. And they make me want to be a better man.” 
― Barack Obama

Eric Ez Aiken