Journey inspires a love for the people and culture of Ecuador

Trinity College School students had the opportunity to experience the unparalleled beauty of the Amazon Rainforest, make connections with the incredible people of Ecuador and experience the fulfillment of volunteerism during the annual ME to WE Ecuador trip.

Flying out on Saturday, November 24th, the group of 16 students and two faculty chaperones – Erin McGee and Brent Hurley – landed in the capital city of Quito to begin their two-week journey. This year’s Ecuador group included: Abi Aicardi, Kit Cheung, William Du, Jocelyn Ehlers, Adam Fang, Nicky Golding, Rita Han, Max Lai, Jayden Lefebvre, Carly Lin, Finn Smith, Ben Traugott, Tilley Woodford, Jiyun Yu, Angie Zhang and Jack Zhang.

Sunday was spent exploring the city, with a guided tour led by a barbero, a barber who also serves as a healer, and who wore traditional Indigenous clothing. Students visited an old hospital museum where they learned about traditional healing methods, and also got to hear the barbero play local instruments such as the rondador (a set of bamboo pipes). The afternoon was spent at the equator, which included visiting a museum focused on the traditional Indigenous culture of Ecuador, plus taking part in some fun science experiments only possible on the equator.

On Monday, the group headed to Sablog, located in Chimborazo province. This is a community in which TCS students have served in the past, so it was particularly gratifying to see the impact of the work completed there on previous trips, and to learn about this year’s project: helping to construct the foundations for classrooms at the school as well as painting some of the existing classrooms. Over the course of several days, students worked alongside community members on tasks including cutting and bending rebar, mixing cement and digging trenches. It was hard labour, made all the more challenging by the fact that the community is located about 3,400 metres above sea level. The students were determined to do their part and showed their commitment and perseverance throughout the busy days at the work site. Constant motivation was provided by the incredible mountain surroundings and the wonderful children of Sablog, who were so interested in meeting and playing with our students.

The TCS group’s accommodations were located in the town of Guamote, about 30 minutes from the build site. At the hotel, students had the chance to try many new foods, including the wonderful fruit of the region. They also spent a morning at Guamote market, learning about how average families in Ecuador must find a way to feed their families on budgets of 50¢ to $1.

Over the course of the trip, the group also had the chance to meet several community groups. This included the girls’ club located in San Miguel de Pomachaca, another community in which TCS students have served in the past. The girls’ club is focused on helping teenage women to get an education, and the girls make and sell handcrafted items to support their education. Our students had the chance to spend time with these young women and try their hand at making jewelry.

As well, students visited a women’s group, Sumak Ahuana, in the village of Pulingi, where they learned about how local women earn their freedom and gain financial stability through their handicraft work. One of the women, Cristina, shared her daily routine with the students, who then went to work in the fields to experience first-hand the rigours of life for these women.

Another visit was to the small community of Gulaghuayco, where local resident Mercedes led the students on a water walk. Jugs in hand, students trekked through fields to a stream to collect water, then carried the heavy jugs back to the community. Today, the community has fresh water thanks to volunteers through the ME to WE Trips program, but Mercedes explained that previously residents had to walk up to 30 minutes to get their water, often several times per day.

Midway through the group’s second week in Ecuador, the students’ work in Sablog was completed. That evening, they were treated to a performance of traditional Andean music by the band Chusik Andinos (Owl from the Andes, in Quichua). They celebrated the conclusion of their community project with a night of dancing and laughter.

The trip concluded with a short stay in the Amazon Rainforest. Students experienced a drastic change in environment and temperature but did not allow that to impact the learning they were doing with regards to the culture in the area. Students learned from a local farmer about daily life in the Amazon and helped bring water from the river to his farm. They also visited another artisan group, Sumak Warmi, and learned how to make crafts using the woven fibres of the pita plant. There was also a chance to explore the beautiful rainforest, including a night walk to experience the animals and insects of the area.

Students and chaperones returned to Canada on December 9th, tired but also excited to share their many adventures with family and friends. Together, the group had forged a strong bond and developed many new friendships. Theirs was an incredible journey that inspired a love of the people and culture of Ecuador.