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Acting Director of Service-Learning
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Ecuador: Spring Break 07
There are parts of the world where education is not a universally available privilege. There are places where children walk several hours to attend school, and where the connection between poverty and lack of education is painfully obvious. The rural, indigenous town of Caluquí, located high in the Ecuadorian And\es, is one of those places.
For a week and half this March, eleven Eckerd College students worked to improve the conditions of la Escuela Tomas Rivadeneira, the only school in Caluquí, a farming community of approximately two-hundred Quichua-speaking families. In conjunction with Cielo Azul, a Swiss NGO, Tomas Rivadeneira works to break the cycle of poverty most indigenous families face through quality education while also preserving their rich, traditional culture.
We lived at the school while working in Caluquí, sleeping together on a classroom floor and cooking meals together in the small school kitchen. Eckerd students painted the entire exterior of the school, constructed an entire playground—a first for the community—and also brought six skateboards to donate to the students. Staying in the community allowed us a high level of daily interaction with the students, aged six to eleven years old, and we got to know them and their living conditions on a personal level while seeing a part of Ecuador that few tourists ever do. We learned that Caluquí is an extremely poor area (the average household income is about $200/month), a place where most children are unable to attend school and work the land much as previous generations have done for thousands of years. Few homes have electricity, there are no stores or paved roads, and some of the kids have to walk more than two hours through the mountains just to get to school.
Although the majority of our time was spent in service, we also got to enjoy many of the cultural and environmental wonders of Ecuador. We bargained for handicrafts at the famous Otavalo market, hiked around volcanic crater lakes, walked through waterfalls, saw Andean condors, and got lost in the cobblestone streets of the Old Town in Quito. Before we returned to the states many of us were already planning our next trip back to Caluquí and other parts of Ecuador, ready to continue the service he began.