I chose to volunteer in Ecuador simply because I had never been to South America before. I had no idea what to expect about the culture or my experience abroad. Driving to the airport as the sun rose on a Thursday in late June, I began to realize how crazy I was for wanting to do this. Why did I think it would be a good idea to send myself to a developing country where I don’t speak the language and try to live and work and function? How am I supposed to communicate with people? Will I even make it through the airport? How am I supposed to function in this foreign land of mystery for 5 weeks? I boarded the plane to Miami, and was sitting in my window seat to Quito before I knew it. There was no turning back. The flight attendants spoke in both English and Spanish, the plane was a split between cultures. It was real. I was going to Ecuador.
Fast forward to the start of August. I sat silently in the passenger seat of Franklin’s old, green stick shift Toyota, my luggage nearly overflowing out of the back. As Franklin ripped through the quiet early morning streets of Quito, there was nothing more I wanted than to return to my volunteer placement SINAMUNE, hang out with my host family, and run around Plaza Foch with the other volunteers. All of the initial anxieties were memories and Quito felt more like home than Frisco, Texas did. My only regret was not staying longer.
So here’s how a dreaded trip abroad became the best 5 weeks ever: I was picked up from the airport by a man named Franklin. The next morning I met one of the volunteers in Ecuador for a tour of Quito and the following day I got to do so many wonderful, touristy, Ecuadorian-y things. A trip to a canyon, Quilotoa volcano, an indigenous house and an indigenous market, and at the end of the day, I was dropped off at my host family’s house. My host sister spoke very good English-thank God-so I wasn’t completely clueless about what was going on. I lived in Northern Quito in a neighborhood called Ruminahui in a small house next to a park, and my family was super nice and welcoming. I immediately felt like I was apart of the family upon walking in.
A couple days later, I started working and getting into the feel of things. Every day, the sound of a blender woke me up around 7 am. This sounds unpleasant however the sound of a blender means that there’s fresh juice, so it never bothered me. I went to the kitchen for breakfast made by my host mom. The meal usually consisted of fresh juice, fresh fruit, and fresh bread. At around 7:20, I walked to the bus and arrived at work around 8:00 am. At 8:30 on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday about 30 kids ages 3-10ish arrived and we immediately started with recorder class. For this hour, I basically moved kids’ fingers to the melody of a song while another teacher yelled orders to the group.
After was rehearsal with the orchestra. The orchestra consisted of a couple clarinets, a saxophone, a trombone, a couple flutes, some keyboards, and a percussion section so it wasn’t exactly the orchestra I was used to. Also, I’m fairly certain I had the only bassoon in the country and it was fascinating to everyone there. Most of the musicians in the orchestra were disabled, a significant portion blind so it was truly incredible to see the level of musicianship these people were creating. Most played all of the songs entirely by memory, and the best part was seeing how much fun everyone had by playing music. As soon as a song would start, the facial expressions of the orchestra’s players completely changed to be filled with joy.
After rehearsal was break time where we played with the kids and after was more recorder, computer time, or some other miscellaneous activity. On Thursdays and Fridays, the special needs adults would come instead of kids. The schedule was about the same except recorder class was replaced with arts and crafts or dancing. After work, I would go home for a quick lunch with my family (which was always massive-soup, meat, rice, and dessert) and leave for Spanish class which was an hour bus ride away. I would get back to my house around 6pm and eat dinner around 8pm. Dinner was always a little bit of meat with a side or something similar-but it was always small.
All in all, Ecuador was an adventure filled with teaching and learning, mini vacationing, and shenanigans. Definitely one of the best experiences of my life.
Written by Maddy Braat
Performing Arts Abroad Music Volunteer in Ecuador