Kathleen in Ecuador as volunteer

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Kathleen in Ecuador as volunteer
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Kathleen's experience in Ecuador as volunteer of DVI

Baños, Ecuador – May 11, 2014 – June 21, 2014

To begin an account of my time volunteering in Baños, Ecuador, I must disclose that I was not a traditional volunteer with Dominican Volunteers International (DVI). Instead of the one year that volunteers typically spend in their location, I only spent six weeks. However, it was, in all honesty, the most enriching and life-changing month and a half of my twenty-one years.

So, why only six weeks, you may ask yourself. Let me back up a bit and take some time explain my unique situation. I am currently a rising senior at Providence College, in Providence, Rhode Island (the smallest state of all 50). Providence College is the sole Dominican college in the United States. At the beginning of my junior year, I began a process to apply for a program offered to Providence College students, called the Fr. Philip A. Smith, O.P., Student Fellowships for Study and Service Abroad.

Begun in memory of the late Fr. Philip A. Smith, O.P., former president of the Providence College, these fellowships aim to, in the words of the program itself, “encourage highly motivated students to deepen their acquaintance with the Catholic and Dominican intellectual tradition and the ethos of Christian service, and to introduce them to the breadth and richness of the church universal.” While that is a very long sentence, simply put, these fellowships are to allow undergraduates students the opportunity to either do service or study in a Dominican community somewhere outside of the United States. The program also serves to help students deepen and live their Catholic faith.

So without going too much into detail, when I began applying for the Fellowship, I reached out to Sr. Lucía Fernández, O.P., who was very interested in the program and who was more than willing to accept my proposal of six weeks of volunteering in one of the DVI locations around the world. After discussing with Sr. Lucía that I was involved with my college’s campus ministry through English as a Second Language, she suggested a number of locations that might suit my volunteering interests, that is, teaching English. Finally, it was settled that Baños, Ecuador, would be the perfect DVI location for me to volunteer. After much research and correspondence about this period of volunteering, I knew this was a location that would, without a doubt, be a place of spiritual transformation.

By February, many emails later, and after several rounds of applications, I received the thrilling news that I has been chosen as one of eleven students to be granted a Fellowship. I was so exhilarated that I literally leaped around my empty dorm room. Thanks to the painstaking and tireless efforts of the incredibly supportive Sr. Lucía Fernández, and all those in charge of the selection committee at my college, I was about to make my vision for service in a Dominican community a reality.

The time between the end of classes and when I began service was very short and chaotic. I finished exams on Friday, packed up my room to go home, and only had Saturday to ready my suitcases for Ecuador, as my flight left bright and early on Sunday, May 11th. I was nervous because although I have travelled by plane before, this would be my first time flying alone. And on an international flight to boot! Once on the plane, I prayed and meditated as our ascent began. I was calmed, knowing that I was safe in hands of a loving God.

After an almost ten hour journey (which involved changing planes twice), I finally arrived in Quito. There, Br. Angel greeted me with a sign that had my name and the Dominican seal. He was so kind and gracious to me, and for that I was so grateful. He also spoke English, which was good, because my Spanish was rather rusty. He told me to speak Spanish as much as I could when in Baños, because the worst that could happen would be that people would get a chuckle out of my lack of language skills. I am glad he gave me that advice, because I might have been too timid to speak up right away when I met people who did not speak English.

I spent two nights at the Dominican Friars’ convent in Quito and was extremely grateful for their hospitality. Then, I travelled to Baños with Fr. Giovanny and Fr. Antonio to begin my time of service. In Baños, though I was not able to live with the other DVI volunteers, Eddie, Gilda, Mariela, and Mariana (there was not enough room at their home), I did have the privilege to live at the residence of Sr. Marielena. She welcomed me to El Centro de Formación Cristiana with open arms, and a warm and loving heart in the true spirit of Christian hospitality. To me, this place quickly turned from a house to a home.

Another group who also welcomed me with open arms were the Dominican Sisters of Baños. Sr. Teresa, Sr. Rossana, and all the other sisters who worked and lived at Sagrado Corazón were so wonderfully friendly and gracious. The integrated me into their community, both inside school and outside of school hours, as if I had been there all along. I never felt out-of-place or unwanted during my time volunteering there.

At Sagrado Corazón, I worked alongside the upper level English teacher and assisted with daily lessons. Additionally, I held classes in the afternoon (after the regular school day had finished) four days a week. Since these were designed and run solely by me, the students had a chance to really converse with a native English speaker (and I got a chance to brush up on my Spanish). We touched upon topics ranging from American holidays to the children’s favorite movies.

The chance to independently teach a class of students was a challenging, but rewarding, experience. Some days I would be more frustrated than others, because of my own inability to convey what I needed to the students. But the rewarding part for me was seeing a child grasp a difficult English concept or remember a particular word they had just learned. I prayed that I could be a good teacher to them, and that my presence could make at least a tiny impact on the academic lives of the students. I would be presumptuous to say whether my teaching did or did not make a difference to them and their interest in the English language, but I hold the hope that it did. I know that these students allowed me to grow as a teacher and volunteer. I know that I changed for the better because of these young students. They inspired me each day.  

Since this summary is getting on the long side, I won’t go into too much of the day-to-day business of working and living in Ecuador. If you wish, you can find daily written accounts and pictures from my blog, http://serviceinecuador.wordpress.com/. Each post has a detailed description of the day’s events, as well as photos accompanying the text. I tried to write as easily and authentically as possible, so it is not always written in the most elevated language, and there may be some spelling errors or typos.

However, I did want to touch on a couple more things in this summary about my time in Ecuador.

In particular, I would like to thank DVI volunteers Mariela and Mariana. Without them, my time in Ecuador would not have been what it was. I would have been absolutely lost without them in my life. Mariana once wisely told me that, “God has been good with the people He puts into [her] life.” I would like to echo the same sentiment. God was truly good to me when He put Mariana and Mariela in my life. Without them, I would not have had the opportunity to help with youth groups, to be a guest on their radio show, to travel to Catamayo for el Movimiento Juvenil Dominicano, to attend 7 o’clock Mass together, or to do many of the things I was able to experience during my time in Ecuador. I would have been absolutely lost without them and their guidance. These two young women were my spiritual and emotional rocks.

I also wanted to mention the generosity of spirit of people of Baños. Every person I met was so willing to open his or her home to me, a complete stranger. But their compassion and Christian spirits were so unwavering. I do not think it would ever have crossed their mind to turn me away. For their hospitality, I am forever grateful. I was genuinely inspired by the faith and goodness of the people of Baños. It is strong and it is true. While the city itself is absolutely stunning, as it is surrounded by lush mountains and rushing waterfalls, so too are the spirits and hearts of the people equally beautiful.

As cliché as the sentiment is, I know that the end of my time in Baños is not “goodbye” Rather, it is simply “see you later.” I know one day I will return to this amazing community. I know I was incredibly blessed to have been afforded this opportunity, that is, to serve in a DVI community in Baños, Ecuador. I cannot thank enough all those people whose efforts helped me along my journey. My time with DVI will not be something I will soon forget. 

 

(25 August 2014)