Janice At An Ecuadorian Orphanage Pt. 2: Wild And Sick

In 2009, American 20-something Janice Ruelo departed on a rite-of-passage for her career and life: she volunteered at an orphanage in Ecuador, South America. 

map Ecuador

In her first post in this series, Janice introduced herself and shared about her arrival to the orphanage. This time, we get to hear all about her interactions with the children. 


June 30

I took a Spanish class with instructor Daniel Paredes. He taught me new phrases like ¡Chuta! an equivalent of “Shoot!” The following are examples of what made my life interesting at the orphanage–that might make me say ¡Chuta!

• I found two boys playing in the mud in the backyard near the playground. A hose sprinkled from beneath the mud. Then the boys decided to play hide and seek among the white bed sheets. The woman who washes the clothes was not very happy with the boys–or me for not stopping them.

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• A child was picking out lice from another child’s hair, while a third child was looking for lice in the teacher’s hair.

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• Two boys climbed a tree to get on the roof of the orphanage. Neither responded willingly to my urgent shouts to get down.

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• One girl persistently sits on my lap and gives me the biggest hugs…while sniffing me and trying to eat my clothes.

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• Three boys decided to take the chalky substance off of the walls of the orphanage and smear it on their faces in order to imitate clowns.

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All of this pretty much happened in one day. ¡Chuta!

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July 6

La gripa means “flu” and la costa means “the coast.” I don’t think “flu” and “coast” make a good pair, but sometimes bad pairs happen.

A tickle in the throat, occasional dry cough–then a violent cough; a series of strong fevers, chills, a headache, congestion. This is the virus that accompanied us on our hours-long trip from the capital Quito to the Pacific coast.

We took off in the early afternoon in two vans. Along the way we listened to an orchestra of a baby crying, a child vomiting in the back seat from motion sickness, and salsa music blaring in the front of the van descending the winding mountain roads. Cristofer, whose fever added to my already rising fever, sat on my lap, Uncomfortable would be an understatement.

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We arrived around 10 pm at a site owned by a pastor and his wife. The lodging was very simple: cement floors, bunk beds, and sparsely running, cold water. The kids, however, were not that simple, running all around the site–all dirty, all sick, and all wild!

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We ate broccoli soup and added popcorn to the soup.

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I woke up the next morning, barely able to maintain my balance. It was hard to get better on this trip due to all the activity. I did not get to enjoy the beach the first day, but was able to join the children on the second and third. We built castles, looked for snails and shells, and some of the kids even found starfish and sand dollars! Perhaps this was not the ideal vacation, but despite all of the coughing and fever, and tiredness, I was able to witness the happiness on the kids´ faces as they indulged in the sand and white, foamy water.

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I realized that they appreciated being here. While myself, on the other hand, was thinking negatively throughout. At times, I caught myself thinking, “Ahh, too many kids who deliberately choose not to listen to me, who eat my clothes, and who keep turning the lights on and off when I try to sleep!”

I was spoiled, selfish, and felt sorry for myself. So though I was sick, I tried to get outside of myself and be less self-centered. This trip was about them.

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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.


What say you?