Expanded Horizons – Volunteering Abroad

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I’m not exactly sure that I could pin point a time, a decision or what not, that brought me here.

It’s an idea that had been forming for a while and after the completion of my TEFL Course in Galway I thought “it could be time”.

Two weeks of my life in front of a computer! That’s a time in my life that I will never get back. But those couple of weeks that I spent trawling the net, looking for the right project, is now paying off. Through a contact I came across on the Thorn Tree message forum, on the lonely Planet website, I was directed to www.kids.org and from there I found ‘The Genesis Project’.

Based in small costal city of Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador the project is run by Vladir Villigran. Vladir is a local man who has set-up this opportunity to help local schools by supplying volunteers to teach English. Money for teacher’s salaries and amenities (they recently constructed a toilet where there hadn’t been one before for a school of 60 students and their one teacher) and materials are also supplied. These schools lack the bare basics and the Genesis Project is helping to change that, little by little. The project also helps to sponsor some children that attend the Genesis School thanks to online donations through the Genesis website, among others.

So, I ran ideas by people. Dad, of course, was full of support and helped me to come up with some good ideas. From the start, and still now, peoples generosity and enthusiasm have overwhelmed me, whether it was hosting fundraisers, helping with the organizing and smooth running of or taking part in, people gave so much and each time I was in awe of good will of the people of Athenry. And I can assure you they feel the same way here. The money raised in Athenry is paying for the salary of a teacher for a full year. This is the same school, located high in the mountains that only recently received a toilet. (a hole in the ground was their means before this). Now instead of 60 students vying for the attention of one teacher the class can be broken up into 30 students per teacher. There is also the materials kindly donated by so many people, these materials have and will continue to make lives better and bring smiles, thank you.

As I write, this is my 5th week here and it has been amazing to date. From the day to day perspective of living there is always so much to learn and little things like getting the bus or buying a bottle of water are adventures. I won’t lie, people are not always trusting of ’La diabla Blanc’ but on the whole the Ecuadorian people are warm, inquisitive and knowledgeable.

When they hear I’m from Ireland the next question is usually “It’s cold there yes?” And, of course, there is the warmth that the Irish are received with abroad and, for that, I’m often grateful. But of most importance are ‘Los ninos’ the children. One of my first observations to the school director was, “They have an extra gear here!” They most certainly seem to have more energy than Irish children and there seems to be a more basic happiness here — especially as you encounter some of the poorer children. Teaching at Genesis has been fun, challenging, frustrating and eye opening. The children refer to teachers as ‘Aunt’ or ‘Uncle’ (‘Tia’ or ‘Tio’) and my heart warns every time I hear “ Tia Rosita” ( It rolls off the tongue far more easily than just Rose).I can rarely walk through the yard without a child attaching him or herself and giving me a big hug while asking how I am — in English if they are feeling particularly studious, otherwise a quick Quetal? (How’s things?)

At the moment there are three volunteers, including myself. Marshall is a return volunteer and from North Carolina and Graham is from Fermanagh (his mammy was delighted to hear that a girl from Athenry greeted her son off the bus in Bahia). Marshall and I have been teaching together in Genesis and Graham, who just joined us a week ago, and I have started teaching in the last two days at Escuela Jaime Polit.

This was our first real and major culture shock. The school is little more than four walls, a chalk board and some tables and chairs. No flashy posters adorn the walls, no windows, no air-conditioning. There is definitely a lack of the modern convinces that I took for granted in school. It’s here that I feel we will make the most impact. The children have never studied English before but I am bowled over by their enthusiasm and intelligence. We are already greeted by “Good morning teacher” as they spy us trekking up the dirt road to the school. We will have a good month of classes here with these students and I am confident that they will come on leaps and bounds.

So, despite all the mosquitoes, the occasional loneliness, sleepless nights due to the neighbour’s cockerel and all the other native irregularities, I don’t regret this trip one bit. In fact, I feel blessed, to have this opportunity to experience life here in Ecuador and hopefully, to make a difference, no matter how small.

There is nothing more hearth warming than a chiId’s smile and laughter, true, bright and uplifting.

Muchas Gracias de Ios todos.

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About this record

Written by Rose Barrett

Published here 09 Jan 2024 and originally published Summer 2005

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