Le Provocateur: Assumption Student Reflects on SEND Mission Trip to Ecuador
In the beginning of September, I was approached by Vincent Sullivan-Jacques who asked if I would be interested in joining a group of students preparing to venture to Duran, Ecuador on a SEND service trip. Little could anyone tell me about the trip, what to expect or how I would feel about it afterward. All the experiences were very different.
In preparation for the trip, the group of fifteen met every Wednesday starting in September and ending in early December. The group meetings were similar to other SEND prep meetings with a few differences. The group watched the film Crude which detailed the events of a massive oil spill in Ecuador caused by American oil companies. The group engaged in a retreat to bond and share an Ecuadorian meal. We attended the SEND-ing away mass at the Chapel of the Holy Spirit and shared a meal together before break. The next time we would all see each other would be at Logan Airport on January 2.
That morning came quicker than anyone could imagine. The group's first dive into the new culture was spending a layover in Miami International Airport where the population was half American and half Latin American. But after a full day of flying, there was no half and half anymore. It became full immersion. Upon arrival to Guayaquil, the group was greeted by members of the host program Rostro de Christo, which translates to "Face of Christ." The volunteers helped guide the group to their van and we were introduced to the group leader, Billy. He would be our leader, guide, and translator throughout the week. Once settled and crammed into the van (Ecuador doesn't enforce driving laws) Billy instructed that the ride to the compound where we would be living would be silent. The point of which was for the group to observe and get an idea of where we would be living for the next week.
The ride to the compound was about 30 minutes. A large man named Eduardo opened a chain link gate and let us in. The Rostro compound had three houses in Ecuador. The house that we resided in was located in a section of Duran called Arbolito which translates to "little tree." The house in Arbolito consisted of two houses, one for volunteers and one for retreatants. While we were volunteering, we were there as retreatants. The group's lodging was less than ideal. We had prepared for simplicity. Each retreatant had an extremely old bed on a metal frame with a net hanging above them which was to be tucked into the sides of the mattress to prevent bugs from getting in. Showers were military style, water on, water off, scrub up, rinse off, get out. The water was freezing, but the coldest day was about 90 degrees so by the time showering was an option, cold water was welcomed.
After a rough first night of sleep, we had our orientation the next morning. We learned a little more about what we would be doing during the week. The group's purpose for being there and the mission of Rostro de Christo was ministry of presence. This kind of ministry was a type that we could not really understand until we lived it. How could just being present really help someone? One of the most prominent things we did was called "neighborhood time." We visited many neighbors in the very close community. There were many different stories heard through the week from people who owned their own businesses to people who sold handmade crafts. These people loved visitors. They loved getting to share their stories and asking questions about the difference in lifestyles. They were always genuinely interested in what we had to say and in who we were. Slowly, the idea of how important ministry of presence became apparent.
The other major aspect of the mission involved working with kids. We did this in different ways. We worked at programs called Semillas and Manos. Both were after school programs set up by Rostro de Christo to provide a safe, constructive place for children to spend their time. Semillas was a large stadium school area, nothing like a school area in America. It was all out in the open. Manos was smaller but a similar idea. The first part of these school programs included a classroom type activity. Children could do homework or be split up by age and do a constructive activity. After that was recess where more often than not, we played soccer. If there was a regret any of us had afterward it was not practicing a little bit of soccer because every child down there plays the sport.
But these were not the only things we had the fortune of doing. We had the opportunity to visit different types of schools. Nuevo Mundo was a school built for the wealthier citzens of Ecuador, because while we lived in extreme poverty, there were areas that were nicer. The woman who started the school was named Pat and she explained that her reasoning for building the school was not to exclude those struck by poverty, but to educate those who have wealth so they could help the less fortunate later on. We visited a different school called Chicos de Calle, which translates to "boys of the street." This was a school and shelter which sought boys who were either abandoned by families or homeless and took them in. The school would train them to play soccer only as long as they kept their grades up. But in the case that they would not be able to play soccer professionally, the school also taught trades like carpentry and mechanics.
The other major place was one that sticks in out memory. We visited a location called Damien House. It is a section of the infectious disease hospital for people with Hansen's disease. Hansen's disease is also known as leprosy. We all grew a little nervous after hearing this. But after learning more about the disease, we met the patients. They were lovely, amazing people who had incredible outlooks on life. In America, people in these types of hospital wards were sad and medical employees were constantly surrounded by death. But at Damien House it was all a positive outlook. They were not there to face death; they were there to enjoy the last chapter of their life.
We slept in sweat...barely. We lived off tuna, bread and warm water all week. We were attacked by bugs. But it was one of the best weeks of our lives. The lessons learned and beautiful friends met would always be in our heads. SEND Ecuador was not just an experience, but a new chapter for those willing to serve.
Learn more about Assumption’s SEND program here.
Kimberly Dunbar, Director of Public Affairs, Assumption College