Winter break in Ecuador: One student’s experience

By Jen Wozniak
April 6, 2010

Over winter break I traveled to Duran, Ecuador, and lived on $1 a day to be in solidarity with the people of Ecuador.  Along with 9 others from Cabrini, I spent eight days in Ecuador, a country where two-thirds of the population lives on $1 to $2 a day.  Although this trip was only eight days, it changed my whole outlook on life.

This trip was not so much about doing.  We didn’t build houses or repair schools.  It was simply to experience another culture, connect with others and learn from the welcoming people of Ecuador.

Duran, Ecuador, lacks running water and has few paved roads.  Children cry out for water in the streets, food is scarce and the houses that line the roads are made of sticks, tin and other odds and ends.  Some people even lived in huts over a landfill.  The smell of burning trash filled the air.  There is often no water to drink, bathe or wash clothes.

The neighbors that we met, however, were some of the happiest, most friendly people I have ever experienced in my life.  They value family, hard work and relationships with others.

We were welcomed with smiles into homes with dirt floors and neighbors talked to us as if we were great friends.  We also visited people with Hansen’s disease, also known as leprosy.

But the people of Ecuador did not want you to feel sorry for them.  They were happy to share their stories and hear about our lives as well.  They took great pride in their crafts that we were able to buy from them.

One of the activities we did was help at several after-school programs.  I soon learned this didn’t mean that all the children went to school.   Many children go for the banana and piece of bread that is handed out- sometimes this is the only meal they receive that day.

I helped a boy named Christian with an activity, but realized he could not even write his name.  At dinner that night I learned that Christian, at 14 years-old, had never been to school.  I wonder what the future holds for Christian.  He is friendly and has a great smile.  But without an education or the ability to write, how can he improve his life?  I see him raising his family in the same poor area in the same poor conditions.

The people in Ecuador are not lazy.  They just happened to be born into these poor conditions and have little opportunities to improve their lives.

It may seem that attempting to help those in poverty is hopeless and that you can’t possibly make a difference just yourself.  You may wonder, why go on a trip like this?

This is why. I did not leave Ecuador believing I could get rid of extreme poverty in Ecuador or all over the world.  Instead, I took the advice of others that I met there.  Sr. Pat, who opened a school she now teaches at, said that to change the world you do not have to go to another country, but you can see how you can help in small ways back home and use your skills and education to make the world a better place.

Of course advocating for laws to help decrease poverty is great, but you can also help the world in smaller ways.  We all have a purpose in life and can make a difference- even if that is just being friendly, smiling at others and helping those near our own home- whether that be children, the elderly or our neighbor who is going through a rough time.

The people of Ecuador had a strong sense of community and neighbors helped each other out and played games like soccer in the streets together.  My hope is that people in the United States can be more friendly and loving towards one another like the people of Ecuador.

My advice is to not take what you have for granted.  Remember that money can’t buy happiness.  Appreciate all the little things, even if that is just water.  Think about reasonable things you can do in your life to help others and make the world a better place.  Everyone can make a difference on some level.

Cabrini College allowed me to take what I was learning about poverty and see it first-hand in Ecuador.  I am fortunate to have gone on this trip and see that everyone throughout the world is equal and living in solidarity.

Jen Wozniak

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