"From the beginning, I tried my hardest to move forward into this experience, breaking out of the boundaries of my consciences, and leaving myself behind... I came here with an open heart and though I have felt great sadness for what I have seen and learned during this time, I am leaving with a higher consciousness, greater understanding, and new perspectives- one person forever changed by this small part of the world." - Raphel Weber, Class of 2006
January 24: I am currently writing from Riobamba, Ecuador, a small town located in the Andes, right next to the great Chimborazo, the largest mountain (and volcano) in Ecuador. The city of Riobamba is surrounded by several indigenous communities, which are located in las faldas de la Chimborazo. On any given street or park, rubble and trash line the sidewalks, as dented taxis and run-down cars rush by, never ceasing to honk their horns at any given intersection. Barefoot indigenous women carry about wicker baskets of food or some have small tables set up on the street corners, selling everything from fried pig to fruit, serving the food with bare and unwashed hands. "La vida es dura" (The life (here) is hard) is a phrase that I have already heard countless times in brief encounters and conversations with strangers. Young children are working, selling anything along the streets, instead of attending school. Young girls may wash the windows of your car while you wait at a stoplight or yesterday, during school hours, I saw a young boy outside painting... Ironically, as I write this, two young boys, ages 4 or 5 came up to me trying to sell me chocolates. Their faces are dirty, clothes ripped, and they are spending their Saturday walking around the city selling chocolates- and then another young boy arrives just as the others leave- and maybe, with luck, these boys will make 50 cents today.
I am currently working with CRS Riobamba and its partner GSD (Generation, Solidarity, and Development) in the communities of Calpi and San Andres. The project, Active Citizenry- Exercising my Rights aims to promote new processes of participation for young people between the ages of 12 and 24, giving them the opportunity to exercise their rights and to get involved in local development in order to improve their quality of life in both social and economic terms. This project is specifically one of micro finance, in which youth have taken out small loans in order to raise and sell such things as pigs, chickens, guinea pigs, clothing at the market, pay for school supplies, or as one young man has does, to open a panadera.
This project is now it its third and final year and the youth that have participated have experienced both success and failure. I will have the opportunity to interact with the youth and their families and through interviews (and surveys that I will create) I will be able to assist CRS/GSD in understanding the effects of this project. Not only will I be analyzing the effects of micro credit on the development of the youth of San Andres and Calpi; I will be observing and studying the education aspect of this project, as all who participate are required to attend classes in which they learn more about proper animal care, record keeping, and more details of their specific investment. These classes are intended to promote the sustainability and success of the project while promoting educational quality and equity. I will also be analyzing the effects of the project on a grander scale, for example, if it has promoted solidarity in the communities of San Andres and Calpi.
Last week, after arriving and meeting my three, sometimes four co-workers of CRS and GSD, I had the opportunity to attend one of the classes/meetings. This particular class was for the youth who invested in buying and raising pigs. Without a clear idea of where I was going, we drove for about 15 minutes along a bumpy dirt road up into the mountains, passing acres and acres of cultivated land, tiny brick houses with chickens, pigs, and donkeys wandering about, and indigenous women and men of all ages working the land, waving as we passed by. We arrived at a tiny shack and entered in the middle of the class, as all their heads turned at the sight of a gringa! This particular class was about record keeping and, among other things, how to keep track of one's expenses and gains. I spent about an hour standing in the back, listening and observing until the end when I nervously introduced myself to a group of 10 or 11 smiling faces. It was hard to stay nervous for too long as all of the youth were so kind and immediately wanted to know if I was single! Haha!
Since I started my work here, I have spent some time reviewing the project, looking at pictures of the youth in action with their respective investments and reviewing the paperwork completed by each youth in order to obtain a loan. I now have a much clearer idea of the project and am very curious to hear the thoughts and perspectives of the youth and their families. I have now been working for about 6 days (though it feels like weeks!) and today I began brainstorming questions for the survey that I, and my co-workers, will create and finalize in the coming week.
Ohhh but then there is my life outside of work!!! I have been spending my time exploring the city, hitting up the large markets with everything from hub caps to turkeys and pigs, and spending lots of time with the ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL family that I have been lucky enough to snag! Haha. I am already learning how to crochet hats and scarves with my host mom, Rosi, and how to have a quick response for all of the jokes from Wilson, my host father. So far, my transition has been quite smooth; the lack of hot water and other comforts has little significance next to living with such wonderful people. Though, I did dream one night that I had a really hot shower and I woke up the next morning and there was hot water! It was awesome! I think I'm going to try to dream like that more often. I also had a dream that I was playing with lions but that has yet to come true- and I think is beside the point! Let's see... I also live with 2 girls (16 and 24) and one very cute and mischievous 6 year old boy. I am still in awe of my sleeping schedule and well, sort of proud of myself and like to brag about it in emails to friends and family! I have not gone to bed at 10pm to wake up at 6:30am for YEARS! I have been going running with Rosi in the mornings at a local park where several Ecuadorians are out and about walking and doing (what looks like) stretching classes. At about 7am, all of the children from the elementary schools come swarming in, wearing a variety of P.E. uniforms and headed for the stadium to do athletics of some sort.
February 3: "Vivimos en un pais donde la gente puede hacer lo que le da la gana" -man affected by the recent transportation strike
Yesterday instead of taking the bus to the office, I took it to Argentina and that is where I am writing this reflection!AHHAHA! Gotcha! Hahah, no, but seriously, I did take the bus to a new destination, one of the indigenous communities, called Batzacoa'n. I usually either go to the field with my co-worker Ruth, or she drops me off and I hang out with one of the indigenous youth and do interviews. I have found that being dropped off alone in the middle of a long dusty road, surrounded by several cement or mud houses (as big as two dorm rooms), and at least a few sheep, pigs, chickens, and dogs wandering about is really thrilling... with a side of scary! Hah, but anyway, the point of this story is that I showed up to Batzacoa'n alone, got off the bus and unintentionally caused quite a scene. I was immediately surrounded by about 20 small children (ages 5-7) with wide-eyes, dirt smudged cheeks, and stunned expressions. I guess I could describe them as deer caught in headlights actually... for example, I think some of the kids were just frozen in running position and unable to move their feet. I couldn't help but return the same expression and then laugh out loud, as I was just as caught off guard as I'm assuming they were! Three girls began to ask "What is your name?" in English over and over again and so we chatted a little bit in Spanish and I explained that I was looking for the women's community bank. And then, in a matter of seconds I was left standing alone, as one boy quickly told me where his mom lived (one of the women of the bank) and before I could respond all twenty children had scattered in a million directions, a few "bye-byes" lingering in the dust.
I am still laughing about the expressions of the children at the sight of a white girl, but I still think the funniest thing so far was when I went to buy gum while out in the field and was privileged enough to be served by an older man in nothing but his tight grey underwear! Ahahah! But, more funny stories another time because I actually would like to reflect on some of the very serious problems in this country. These past two weeks have been full of startling evidence demonstrating the underdevelopment and inequity in this country, mainly that of corruption and social instability.
I have been shocked by the everyday corruption that exists and dictates the lives of 90 percent of the population. I was talking with one of the accountants who works here (by the way, she works over 40 hours a week and makes $300 in one month) and she nonchalantly told me about how she and her husband had recently been victims of corruption. Her husband had applied for a job with the city in the international bank and after turning in his resume, taking tests, and interviewing, he was told that he was more than qualified for the position. However, he was also told that if he wanted the job, he had to pay $2500. Fanny, my co-worker continued to tell me that this is normal and though it is unfair and she and her husband were very upset, they borrowed the money from a family member and paid the $2500 because they needed the job.
My host mom, Rosi, has had horrible luck trying to get a job, which is hard to believe considering how talented and qualified she is. In one particular job, a non-profit which supports sick children, Rosi was told she could work for $1 an hour, teaching her crafts to the children. ONE DOLLAR to plan the classes and teach over 30 children... one dollar buys bread and a cup of coffee, one dollar does not feed a family of five. Rosi said "These men were offering me one dollar while they live lives of luxury with beautiful houses and cars because they pocket the money that is intended for the children." In the end, they gave the job to a friend of the boss, which apparently is how things work here. I have been told several times by different people that a friend of the boss will always get the job regardless of their qualifications.
Oh and here's a shocker for you- My host sister Christina, just started a job working 4 hours in the morning... and making $50 a month. Yesterday they told her that they might not even pay her.
Last week the regional transportation workers went on strike. What does this mean? Imagine this: bus after bus blocking the highway from Quito to Riobamba (4 hours) ensuring that no car is able to pass. The buses line up next to each other and literally block the entire highway. People transporting vegetables and meat were left at a loss as they could not pass through and the goods spoiled in the sun. I was watching the news as people affected by the strike were being interviewed and I remember the words of one angry man who had lost his meat due to the sun. "Vivimos en un pais donde la gente puede hacer lo que le da la gana" (We live in a country where the people can do whatever they want whenever they want). And it is true, the people can do whatever they want without giving a second thought to los dem's (the rest). My boss told me that when the indigenous communities protest, they actually break the gates of the toll booths and throw rocks and attack any car that tries to pass.
Students in Quito are also currently on strike and have been for about a week. 100 have been injured, 150 students have been put in jail, and there is over 80,000 dollars in damage. I saw images on the news students starting fires, breaking windows and being kicked by police and armed forces... yet still, the protests continue and the students are determined to have their voice heard. One of the principal reasons for the protest is the student transportation card. Students were told that the government would pay for half of their monthly transportation costs (each student currently pays about $20 a month) and now the government refuses to pay. The student representative (more or less 16 years old) said, (I am paraphrasing) "violently protesting is the only way to get our voices heard in this country and though we realize it is not the best way, it is the only way."
Before coming here, I spent quite a bit of time reading about Ecuador's political and economic instability, inequities, and social uprisings... however, experiencing it first hand and hearing personal accountants of how it affects the lives of the average citizen is, for lack of a better word, mind blowing. In a conversation with my co-worker's sister, she asked me about the USA compared to Ecuador and I innocently mentioned that the life seemed to move at a slower pace here. She laughed and said (translated to English) "Yes, yes the life is slow here and it never changes, and there is never any progress in this country, because nothing ever changes."
February 16: As the days fly by, I become more and more certain that I don't ever want to leave... the schizophrenic cold/scalding hot showers, same clothes everyday, each meal never failing to consist of rice and bread, friendships with the local store owners, constant beeping of cars in the streets, piles of fresh fruit for sale on each street corner, ancient indigenous women walking barefoot, a stack of sticks on her back, herding sheep, cows, pigs down the middle of a desolate dirt road, tiny children covered in dirt staring at me with huge wide eyes while pulling on my bracelets with dirty sticky fingers, attempting to eat guinea pig and rabbit while trying not to picture them as my childhood pets, the half-hour bus ride everyday to the office: cruising through the city with 70's fringe curtains, colourful pictures and relics of Jesus covering the walls and ceiling, rips in the seats, all for the low price of 20 cents... as the smallest bump in the road shocks the entire bus... yeah I am sure that I don't want to leave Ecuador.
As for the past two weeks, they have been pretty low key; I have now finished all of the interviews and have been staying in the office working on the data and analysis. I still get out into the communities a few times a week though, in fact, last Saturday was the anniversary of one of the women's community banks in Batzacoa'n.
Of all the banks, I have had the most contact with the women of Batzacoa'n and have built friendships with many of them. I was invited to the anniversary party and showed up in the morning with no expectations. I was quickly yanked out of my comfort zone as I was handed a replica of the Virgin Mary and placed in the very front of a procession through the street!
The 6 man band played the national music as we walked the dirt road from the church to the bank and back... not quite understanding why I deserved to be in the front of the procession and not wanting to stand out anymore than I already do, I held my breathe and tried not to stare at my blue all-star shoes... attempting to convince myself that I really DO blend in! After the procession, we, a group of about 100 people, continued walking down a long dusty road until we arrived at a dusty dirt opening where they had set up speakers and a microphone. The women were dressed in bright red, white, and black dresses while others, playing the part of the man, dressed in dark suits, hats, and painted moustaches. Together they performed a traditional dance in the middle of the dust field, as about 100 people gathered around to watch. I was innocently watching the dance and taking pictures when I spotted one of the women coming towards me from the dance circle. I will admit that I literally tried to run away and make myself invisible but she was too quick! She caught me and before I knew it I was dancing in the middle of the circle, the dust misting my stomping feet!
We continued to dance, drink boxed wine, eat roasted pig and potatoes, and play for the entire day. I made friends with a group of little girls and we danced in a circle, holding hands and laughing completely oblivious to the surrounding spectators. Seven hours later and after dancing with an 80 year old man, I decided to take off, only to be invited to their celebration of Carnaval at the end of the month where I am apparently going to dance and wear the traditional dress! Haha, I think they are getting a kick out of making me participate in everything and calling me "nuestra gringuita", a nickname that I have grown to consider endearing. Needless to say, I have officially fallen in love with these people and their openness, generosity, and genuine kindness as they have accepted me as a friend and shared their culture and lives with me.
So, as I said earlier, the days have been flying by and have been beautiful. I am constantly understanding Ecuador a little bit better and learning from each person that I meet. However, beneath the happiness and laughter of each person, I have found that there is a heavy exhaustion, a deep sadness... maybe it can be described as the sadness of a dreamer... clinging to the hope of change and growth but constantly tempted to give up and constantly fighting this temptation. Some are stronger than others and I have seen them pulling their friends and family, young and old, along with them as they continue fighting each day to hold onto their dreams and create progress and growth in their lives and in the life of Ecuador.
"I always have something that I am dreaming of, that I dream of having... that is what we Ecuadorians do, we dream." -in a conversation with one of the youth (19 years old) of Batzacoa'n.
March 8: I open the front door to my apartment and look into the street, my senses instantly overwhelmed by the sound of honking cars and buses speeding by. I find an opening in the crowd of people walking by and step onto the cobblestone sidewalk, passing the same stands stacked with backpacks, burned cds, belts, and sunglasses. Day after day, I pass by these stands opening at 8:30 and closing down at 9:00pm. I wander what sort of living it is, as the people of Riobamaba do not have the money to buy backpacks and sunglasses... and there are 20 stores in 10 blocks selling the exact same things.
I walk 10 minutes to catch the bus, avoiding random unmarked potholes in the sidewalk and piles of gravel and rubble. I greet the same older woman selling fried pig on the corner, her 2 wheel rusty cart and dirt caked hands serving the 50 cent meal day after day. I notice that I am running late and walk quickly to the bus stop, climbing onto the rickety old blue bus as it begins to drive away.
I take a seat near the window and watch the city pass by through dirt spotted glass. Driving through Riobamba, passing chipped cement and brick buildings with for sale signs written in spray paint on the walls, I watch the countless number of stray dogs, malnourished and hungry, pawing through the trash on the corners and notice the usual indigenous women and their small stands as they spend everyday on the same corner selling a few fried bananas. The black smoke of the buses and trucks filters through the cracked windows as we quickly pass the truck in front of us, moving slowly as about 15 indigenous women, men, children, and packed bushels of vegetables stand in the bed of the truck, a young boy hanging off the back. We stop at a red light and I notice a 7 year old boy changing tires in the mechanic across the street, I wonder for a moment if he wants to be in school or if he prefers to change tires all day. My thoughts are interrupted as the driver honks loudly at the people running in front of the bus and I glance at them as they barely reach the other side of the street before we speed by.
We continue down the bumpy road, making a few stops on a couple corners as a a teenage boy leans out the door and yells out our destination. A handful of people climb on board with tired faces, bags of chicken food, and crates of vegetables and they take their seats and we continue on, leaving the city behind us.
As we exit Riobamba, I stare out the window as the scenary changes from broken down cement buildings and trashlined curbs to country side; beautiful mountains and the volcano Chimborazo glowing in the backdrop... the sun breaking through the morning clouds. After driving down a long bumpy dirt road into the country, I get off the bus in San Vincente, one of the indigenous communties that I am working in. I am greeted by Maria, a 24 year old mother of two, one of her children tied onto her back with a bright red blanket while the other climbs around in her arms. Maria invites me into her house and we begin to walk down the soft dirt road, the air scented with a mixture of pigs, fresh rain, and campfire smoke. As we pass through the community on the way to her house, we greet the women as they look up from weeding in their gardens or washing their clothes in the nearby stream, babies on thier backs and pigs and chickens at their side. Their husbands have already left for the day to work construction in the city, making a few dollars a day... 50 dollars a month. We arrive to Mariacutea's house, a tiny space built out of cement, neighbored by a shed built of mud, dried sticks and weeds for the roof.
I enter into her house and the room is dark and cold with a dirt packed floor, the only light is the sun gleaming in from the open wooden door, just enough light to see the flies buzzing around my head. There is one small table, 4 red chairs with ripped and torn seats, one small rickety stove and a seemingly out of place gleaming white refrigerater. A few pots and pans are in a pile in the corner of the dirt floor, a open sack of rice leaning against the wall. Maria opens the fridge to offer me an apple and I notice the contents of the fridge: a handful of potatoes, bananas, apples, carrots, and a few other scattered vegetables. One of her daughters sits in the chair staring at me, playing with a dirty doll while sucking on an apple, now covered in dirt because she just dropped it on the kitchen floor. Occasionaly one of the chickens comes sprinting into the house only to be quickly shooed away by the oldest daughter, about 3 years old. A wooden ladder leads to a loft above us and I assume that that is where the family sleeps. I see 4 toothbrushes laying in a pile on the dirty sill of the one small square window. Outside, the only sound is the squaking of the chickens or snorting of pigs as they wander about through the dirt and scattered pieces of trash...
Sitting outside on a pile of branches in the sun, I chat with Maria for a few hours about the micro credit that she took out in order to buy and sell pigs. With sparkling eyes and a huge smile, she tells me the success she has had selling her pigs and how now she does not have to depend on the monthly wages of her husband. Before Maria would spend the entire day in the house or in the small community with her 2 daughters and it was only until her neighbor told her about the micro credit that she began to think about investing in her own small business. "My neighbor told me that I should take the opportunity to take out credit for myself because she said otherwise I was not going to do anything other than stay in the house with my daughters." Now, Maria dedicates her time not only to her family, but also to her own small business. She talks quickly and excitedly as she tells me how she now knows which breed of pigs is the best and the food to buy so that her pigs grow as fast as posible. I sit and listen to her describe her experiences with me, calm and unaffected by the fact that her daughters are crawling all over her small thin frame, and I see how proud she is of her accomplishments. I imagine how empowering it must feel to be able to help her husband after years of depending on him. I ask her if she will continue with her business and her eyes instantly grow wide and bright as she shares with me her dream of building and running her very own pig farm. With a large bright smile, she says "My dream is to have a big pig farm right here next to the house. I could have my pig farm and also sell clothing... that is all I really want... that is what I dream about, nothing more!"
After talking for a good amount of time, I thank her for her time and hospitality and take off down the road past the tiny shacks in which these people live, broken windows patched with ripped plastic, acres and acres of corn and tomatoes, the flea ridden puppies bouncing around in the dust, the clothing drying on the line outside after being washed in the community stream, the one small corner store selling eggs, rice, and coca-cola. I feel overwhelmed with confusion as I find the life in the indigenous communties to be very beautiful, yet would I ever want a life like that of Maria?
Though I don't want to, I admit to myself that I get to leave this shack with dirt floors and cold dark sleepless nights and I get to return to my life of comfort and luxury, never experiencing the life of Maria when the crops fail, or when her children are sick and there is no money for health assistance, on a stormy rainy day with no access to warmth I take a glimpse into this life and walk away finding myself incapable of even imagining a life like that of Maria...incapable of even imagining.
March 16: No one told me, but apparently more than 2 months have passed, and my time here in Ecuador is coming to a close. I feel like there are too many good-byes and not enough "see you soons"... though I feel certain that though this has been my first time in Riobamba, it is definitely not my last. Since I work with such a small organization, the five of us have become close and I am going to miss them dearly. I have already stayed here to work a week longer than I was originally supposed to.. I really must like them huh? I keep saying its my last day, but I keep showing up to work! Ha,ha! I suppose the main reason for this might be the fact that the country is on strike and I couldn't leave Riobamba if I wanted to but still... still I would have stayed. I think the truth of the situation is that I don't know how to say good-bye to an experience that I know I can never really let go of.
However, not to change the subject but before I go for good, I would like to address, once again, some of the reasons that Ecuador struggles to develop and why there is no fairytale light at the end of the tunnel.
A few of the provinces are currently on strike, they are the smaller provinces, but have united in order to protest. They have shut down and blocked the highways, banks and all public businesses are closed, the people have gathered in the centers of the cities to protest- acting violently and never hesitating to destroy public properties. I was slightly confused when I heard that there was strike because, well just two weeks ago I couldn't work because the city buses were on strike- and now there is strike again? However, this time the protest is much bigger and is affecting a much larger percentage of the country. My boss cannot come to work because of the closure of the roads, "un carro puede pasar, peque o grande, no puede pasar" (not a single car is able to pass, whether it be small or large, it cannot pass.)
And they say that the strike is indefinite- but we don't think it will last more than a week.
Why are they striking?
In short, they are striking in order to demand that the government listen to the pueblo, the people. The real "technical" reason for the protest is that the government promised and owes money to the provinces (I'm not sure of the amount) and yet, after a lot of time, the government still has not delivered what they promised.
Apparently, what happens is that the government always gives money to the bigger provinces, the bigger cities, specifically the capital, Quito and, the smaller, but important, provinces are left without the resources to better their cities and the lives of their people. They are unable to fix the highways or support the public health practice because they are not taken into account when the government makes decisions. Yesterday, the day before the strike began; the president announced that if the provinces decided to go on strike, the government would not respond, and would not tend to their needs nor pay attention to their demands- today is day one and I wonder how long it can last.
Once again, striking and protesting is the only way to be heard in this country and it definitely a normal part of life here. I almost want to go as far as to say that it is part of the Ecuadorian culture!
In the late 1990s, under the presidency of Jamil Mahuad, Ecuador changed its currency from the Sucre to the dollar. The Sucre was constantly being devalued and with Ecuador's unstable economy and bursting inflation, Mahuad changed the currency. Years later, it can be said that the poor are now poorer and Ecuador maintains its economic instability.
The other night I spoke with my host father about dollarization and he told me of some of its effects... "For example, now we pay 30-40 dollars for electricity when before we paid 2 dollars. Now we pay 1 dollar for this pen, before we paid 5 cents. The prices have increased tremendously but what has not increased is our salaries. We still make the same amount as before dollarization and that is why we are suffering. In order to afford this life, everyone should make a minimum of $500 a month, but there are people making 60, 80, 120 dollars." My host father is the only one working of the 5 person family, and he makes $120/month...
On a morning jog in the smoke filled air of the country highway, my host mom told me a story of how she had found a well-dressed man in the street, drugged, robbed, and left in the shadows. She flagged down the police and they carried the man off to the hospital. For a few minutes, as I pictured the situation, I was lost in my idealistic images of a tall friendly policeman, serving his community and helping those in trouble- a superhero of sorts. However, I was quickly yanked out my daydream as Rosi continued:
"Yes, they carried him away but if the thieves hadn't already taken everything of value, the police would have gone ahead and taken it. Oh they are just as corrupt as the government and they have no absolutely no shame. On market days, the police wait at the entrance to the city and stop the cars and trucks that are coming from the indigenous communities, making them pay $10 if they don't have a license or papers. These men, with secure jobs and reasonable salaries use their power to rob the money of the poorest people."
The other day, while chatting with the brother of my co-worker, we began to discuss Ecuador's economic and political situation. Naively, I was sort of hoping that eventually someone was going to tell me that they still have hope for change in Ecuador, that it was only a matter of time before the country experienced stability and equality. However, this is what I was told instead:
"When Ecuador has economic success, for example in the 70's with petroleum or the banana boom, instead of the entire country benefiting, only the top 10% benefit and the pueblo is left with empty pockets, disillusioned once again. Ecuador does not progress for the corruption. It is part of the life of Ecuador and will never change- there is no way to change it."
In any random moment, whether it be in a conversation with the taxi driver or the man selling me a pack of gum, I am confronted with the high levels of migration in this country. Each man I meet has his own unique story that he shares with me, telling me of how he worked construction or drove delivery trucks across the United States. In broken English, he tells me how he worked 16 hours a day and lived with 8 other Ecuadorians in one small 2-bedroom apartment and then he tells me of how he wishes that he could return to the states "because there is no work here in Ecuador."
They say that about 2 million Ecuadorians are living in the US, Spain, and Italy. They leave to find the jobs that they cannot find here, and sacrifice being a part of their family in order to support their family. I can honestly say that each person I have met has had at least one family member living in the US or Spain. Some women have not seen their husbands in 6 years, 10 years, 12 years... and then there are the countless children without fathers. In the majority of cases, the men never return to live in Ecuador and the family remains broken- supposedly connected by occasional phone calls and monthly checks.
I would have liked to end these reflections on a positive and cheerful note- but unfortunately the reality of this country does not allow for such a conclusion. However, I can say that even though there are an undeniable amount of problems in Ecuador, one only has to break out of their mental comfort zone for a few minutes to see the vast amount of beauty here whether it be in the uncontrollable laughter of children dressed in rags, their toes poking through the holes in their shoes or in twinkling eyes of the woman selling fruit on the corner of a deserted street. Looking back on the work I have done here I can't really say for sure if I have affected the life of anyone here or if the countless women and children that I have gotten to know so well will remember me in three months...however, I do know that I have been deeply affected by this community so different from my own. From the beginning, I tried my hardest to move forward into this experience, breaking out of the boundaries of my consciences, and leaving myself behind... I came here with an open heart and though I have felt great sadness for what I have seen and learned during this time, I am leaving with a higher consciousness, greater understanding, and new perspectives- one person forever changed by this small part of the world.