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 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


  1. Oh, how I enjoyed reading this and seeing the photos. Thanks for posting!

  2. Eric & Emily: I am so happy to read this blog! The students had such a fabulous time and really learned a lot while there. Thank you SO MUCH for your hospitality and coordination!

  3. EZ and Em, What a wonderful way to give back to Appalachian Students and the ACT program. Thanks for all you did for them, and all you are doing to make the world a better place! We miss you guys around here!
    I'm retiring in December, but will probably move out of my current position and do some special projects the last few months, assuming we find a replacement for me this summer. Take care, and God bless you guys and the work you are doing! Dave Robertson