Now Janice reflects on her time in Quito with a list of nine capabilities needed to best survive working at an orphanage in this mountainous, third-world environment.
Interested to volunteering in Ecuador as Janice did? See how many of these items you can check off.
If I were a superhero, I would be able to do the following after living in Ecuador for six weeks:
1. Develop extra good lung capacity due to the high altitude of Quito
2. Fearlessness of heights–from climbing to the tops of cathedrals, craters, and around mountains
3. Develop a natural defense from powerful UV rays
4. Have a high threshold for awkwardly, physically close situations, especially due to troles (buses)
5. Fearlessness of germs and extra resistance to even the most powerful of the flus (from wiping kids’ noses and hugging/tickling them in their mud and food-stained shirts)
6. Ability to decode Spanish spoken with different accents after interacting with gringa sisters from all over the world
7. Super speed and agility at dodging cars on streets where pedestrians are considered dispensable
8. Built-in lung filters (I opened the windows one day thinking I needed some fresh air. All I breathed in were car exhaust fumes.)
9. A sixth sense for bad characters on the street and elsewhere, because of the high quantity of ladrones (thieves) in Quito
Okay, I’m obviously not a superhero. These were the qualities I wish I had. But I definitely exercised and improved on them all. Most important–and here’s a bonus trait you’ll need:
10. I learned how to give love and accept love.
Each child taught me in his/her own way:
Josue taught me that in order to get something, you gotta aim for pity.
I would say, “Josue, you have to climb down from that tree!”
His reply: “Es porque no me cargas!” (It’s because you don’t carry me!)
“Josue, sorry I can’t let you wear my sunglasses. You tried them on two times already!”
His response: looking into the sun and grimacing repeatedly.
Micaela taught me that persistence is key.
On the swing, she’d say, “Empujame, amiga. Empujame, amiga!” (Push me!)
Three minutes later…
”Empujameeee, empujameee, empujameeeeee!”
But really, the greatest thing Micaela taught me was how to hug! She always managed to climb on my lap, giving me the biggest hugs!
Valeria taught me how to be silly and free. All she had to do is take my two hands, and we just went! From dancing, to spinning around in circles, or jumping up and down.
Jonathan taught me that it’s okay to say no, which sometimes can be hard for me to say. Not for him.
I would say, “Jonathan, vamos al comedor.” (Let’s go to the dining room.)
His reply, “No!”
“Jonathan, vamos al aula.” (Let´s go to the classroom.)
“Okay, vamos, Jonathan.”
Picking him up as he screams, “No, no, no, no, no!!!”
Cristofer taught me that appearances can be deceiving. He seemed to have a chip on his shoulder. He never smiled and preferred to be away from everyone else. Whenever he was asked to do something, he would refuse.
Then one week Cristofer became quite sick. I saw him whimpering in his bed alone. Although he did not seem to prefer my company, I decided to pat his back to help him fall asleep. I also offered him some soup and put cool cloths on his head.
Later that week, the little fevered boy sat on my lap, took my hand, and kissed it. This gesture seemed out of character, as I had never seen a hint of affection from him. I realized that he was a kid that needed love and attention, just like any other child, maybe even more. Later, he’d affectionately call me “China” as he took me by the hand to play.
Cristofer has a special place in my heart.
And as I think about all these children at the orphanage in Quito, and how they helped me, I realize it was these kids who were my superheroes.
Thank you for following along on my adventures and lessons over this life-changing six weeks in the summer of 2009!
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.