We’ve read about Ecuador before from contributors to The Periphery. This golden nugget in South America rests, as its name suggests, right on the equator.
But while the mountains, beaches, and Galapagos Islands are most often the destinations of bright-eyed travelers, Janice headed down for a more intimate purpose: to spend a summer volunteering at an orphanage.
Her story is set in the summer of 2009. But the environment, the ways of life, and the lessons from the children are as relevant today. Here’s Part One of her series, told from Janice’s journal entries.
I felt comforted when I saw the sign “Ms. Janice Ruelo”.
I assumed the man holding it was Vincente, the husband of Laura. She’s the director of the program, and I am staying with her family. Vincente kindly greeted me at the airport and offered to take my maletas (suitcases).
We arrived at the apartment building where I was to stay in Quito, the capital. Vincente told me that the elevators didn’t work at this time of day. I asked him how many flights of stairs. He told me diez (ten). I almost had a heart attack! Then I noticed the smirk on his face which told me was just kidding. You can’t joke with me at this time of day and in this situation! It was past 10 at night after eight hours of flying.
We hauled my two heavy suitcases up only three flights of stairs.
This was my first day to use the bus system. One time, I just barely got on the bus, and the bus started moving! I lost my balance, and my hips and shoulder hit the side railing pretty hard. I looked to my left and people were staring at me, but their faces were expressionless.
The trip to the orphanage was about 45 minutes–though still in Quito.
Home for Children Maria Campi de Yoder is the name of my work site.
There seems to be a lot of need here, including school supplies, beds, and staff members. However, the people who work here have tremendous hearts for these children. And the children seem to have an unquenchable need to be loved. Many of them are orphans or come from situations where their families cannot take care of them. I waved to one of the little girls, and without hesitation, she ran over to hug me. With this one gesture, I felt needed and a purpose for being here.
It has been two days since I began volunteering, and I have to say that initially I wanted to give up. All these children seem to do is cry. But I think I’m learning something through these patience-testing situations. This weekend, I have begun praying and asking God to change my heart and give me vision. By Monday, I think I was beginning to see more about my purpose for being here. It’s not about me and how I feel. It’s about the people, the kids, and their needs.
Okay, okay, yes, at times I wonder, “How can I do this for four more weeks?” But it’s in the little moments that I realize it is good that I’m here. One time, I sat down on the floor, and the kids gave me the biggest hugs and kisses. Yes, they are the same kids that wouldn’t get up from the floor and throw a tantrum…but they’re kids. I gotta learn to deal with it. I think it is good to go through situations that build character and allow me to think beyond myself.
Also, I am beginning to understand the Why. (I always ask “Why?” about everything.) Many of these children come from shattered, broken homes. In some cases, parents do not have resources to provide; in other cases, the children have experienced abuse or neglect. Attachment and trust are most likely contributing factors to behavior. I also think I am beginning to understand what it means to love; to love someone although you hardly know them. Perhaps that is what unconditional love is. You love them just because.
I was so happy on Saturday when we went out to dance. We danced salsa and merengue, and that was when I really felt alive. Vicente said, “El baile esta en las manos,” and I was so amazed by what he said, because it was true. I began to dance with my hands, and that was when I really felt free.
Next time Janice shares some adventures from the orphanage and begins to take Spanish classes.
Janice is a speech pathologist living in Minneapolis. For any questions for Janice or to share about your travels, please comment below.
And if you’d like to share your story on The Periphery, please email me at Brandon@ThePeriphery.com. We’d love to hear all about your adventure.