I’m not a typical 20-something volunteer finishing college. In fact, I retired from a 30-year medical practice in May 2018 and then decided to follow through on a long-held desire to return to Ecuador. I had spent time in Ecuador twice in 2005 and wanted to return to work with at-risk children in Quito. The children serviced by Fundación Minadores de Sueños are at-risk because of the extreme poverty in which many of them live.
My first day at the Fundación, I was excited to meet the children. When I arrived, one of the young girls ran up to me and gave me a big hug. It was a wonderful welcome, and we exchanged many more hugs in the months ahead!
Because daily school attendance in Ecuador is only for a half-day, the Fundaciónprovides services for the other half-day, including a snack and lunch. The children who attend school in the afternoon come to the Fundaciónin the morning, and those who attend school in the morning come in the afternoon. One thing I noticed during mealtimes was that there were no picky eaters. Whatever was being served was received gratefully and consumed in its entirety.
The volunteer work day is 8:30 am to about 5:45 pm M-F, with an hour-long lunch break. Volunteers in the program assist the staff educators in overseeing the children’s activities throughout the day—helping with homework, reading stories, playing games, supervising playground time, monitoring toothbrushing after meals, and keeping the classrooms clean. The program provides lunch and snacks for all the children at a nominal cost, and no one is turned away for lack of ability to pay.
During the half-days at the Fundación, the children receive academic support, and each child is expected to complete his or her homework before leaving. Helping the children focus on their lessons is a big part of the academic support. I especially enjoyed working with the youngest children, assisting them with learning the Spanish alphabet and developing the ability to write. The older children often requested help with English and mathematics. After each day’s assignments are completed, the children work independently on refuerzos(academic exercises that reinforce learned material) and then have a period of indoor or outdoor recreation.
Although the basic schedule is the same from day to day, there is never a dull moment as the children are so energetic and full of surprises! It was fun for me to integrate among them and share in their enthusiasm. Some especially memorable moments include reading El Día que se Comieron a Luis(The Day Louis Got Eaten) out loud over and over by request, playing multiple spirited UNO games, conducting an impromptu yoga class, teaching the Hokey Pokey dance on the soccer field, and witnessing the surge in a child’s self-esteem with a breakthrough in understanding during a tutoring session.
The greatest gift I received from the three months spent at Fundación Minadores de Sueños was the opportunity to connect with and build relationships with the children. Recalling their beautiful faces and their youthful energy and resilience continues to inspire me. Thank you, Marco and Alba, for giving me the opportunity to share in your wonderful service work with the children of Rancho los Pinos!