Hola a todos!!
I've been meaning to write one last post for a while now, but as this week was my first week back in grad school and teaching, it's been quite hectic!! My last few days in Ecuador were a complete whirlwind, so I wanted to let you all know about what happened as well as wrap things up.
My last day at the orphanage was a little different than normal. They had me working most of the day in the section we call "cunas" or the nursery. There are 8 babies in the nursery and 5 toddlers under 2 years old. One of the babies was only 15 days old!! I don't know if I've said this before, but as the time went on in the orphanage, I got to know that most of the kids aren't your traditional definition of an "orphan". Many kids were taken from their families because of parental drug/alcohol abuse, physical, or emotional abuse. A few kids were willingly given up by their families because of lack of money or other reasons and very few have been orphaned by their families. The baby, for example, was just 5 days old when he was handed off by his mother to a stranger on the street and then ran away. The stranger brought him to the orphanage who has been caring for him ever since. The really hard part is regarding adoption/the futures of these children. Since many of the kids do have their parents (and a lot of the parents even came to visit their children, have snacks with them, play with them, etc), the parents are often unwilling to give up the parental rights to their children - meaning the child cannot be adopted or removed from the orphanage unless they are able to go back home. The main goal of the orphanage then is always to reunite the families rather than adoption. It does happen, however, that a few get adopted. In fact, while I was there, a videographer team came in to make a short video about one of the children to use in their adoption promotion. So it can happen, but it often doesn't due to the nature of the parental involvement.
Anyway, the cunas was really hard for me to work in because I have so little experience working with babies and I'm a little scared still that I'll drop one or something, but they were so cute that it was hard not to love it.
Then, the toddlers were all napping and I still had an hour left, so I went over to the section with the older kids and played with them for a while until I had to go home. The nuns told me not to make a huge deal about the fact that I was leaving because it happens so often with short term volunteers and sometimes it really upsets the kids. So only the oldest girl really knew that I was leaving for good, but it was still very sad for me walking away that last time and hoping that they had a good time while I was there. It's hard to see a huge impact that I had there because my stay was so short, there were so many kids, and the only thing I could really do was play with them, comfort them, and keep them company. But I feel like just making the kids laugh and smile and giving them someone to talk to during my time there was enough, because I feel like the kids had fun, and that's what really matters above all else.
After my last day at the orphanage, my coordinator Jessica stopped by my house to bring me a birthday cake with my family!! It was such a cute surprise and it made me so happy to be able to celebrate with my family abroad since I would be traveling all day on my actual birthday! :)
That afternoon, I visited the center of the city because all throughout the capital of Ecuador, Quito, there were strikes and protests happening due to an increase in taxes throughout the country and the President's desire to remain president after his term ends without being re-elected. AKA he is trying to become a dictator. I wanted to see if Cuenca had any strikes/protests but there as really nothing. Some stores were closed but the city of Cuenca decided to have a cultural fair in the center of the city because they knew so many people would stop by to do exactly what I did. It ended up being a really nice treat and I saw some awesome folk-dancing and performances!
That afternoon, I also packed up all my stuff because the plan was to leave Cuenca by bus around 10AM on Friday morning and get to Quito around 8PM. My flight would leave from Quito at 8:45 in the morning on Saturday, so basically I would arrive at my Quito-Host Mom's apartment, shower and sleep, and then leave really early in the morning. However, nature had other plans for me. I woke up on Friday and the volcano in Quito, Cotopaxi, had started to have mini eruptions. It was shooting out ash and smoke all night and during the whole day on Friday and was making travel plans very unsure and potentially dangerous. Adding to all of this were the strikes in Quito that were still going on and getting more and more serious since they started on Thursday. So serious, in fact, that if I had taken the bus, it most likely would have been stopped for any number of hours in a town called Puyo and possibly allowed to pass through after being searched or possibly sent back to Cuenca. Because of this, my school (Simon Bolivar Education) and my scholarship company (Spirit Cultural Exchange) worked so fast to figure me out a new plan. I am honestly just SO THANKFUL for the both of them, working together to get me on the quickest, cheapest, safest way home. So, I ended up taking a plane from Cuenca to Quito (total flight time, under 50 min) and then to my host mom's at 12:30AM so I could sleep even a little bit before I was picked up at 5:00AM to get to the airport for my flights to Chicago. It was hectic, I was tired, but I was safe and I made it home, and that's all because of these two awesome companies working together to make sure I got home safe and on time!
Overall, I had an incredible, INCREDIBLE, three weeks in Ecuador. I loved volunteering my time at the orphanage and it made me feel really good to be able to give back to the community where I was being so touristy. Also, my host moms (especially my family in Cuenca) made me feel so at home, so welcomed, and so happy to be there. It really was just an excellent opportunity and I am so thankful to have had it. Thank you all for reading my blog, keeping up with my posts and pictures, and all the well-wishes for my birthday and my travels home. I LOVE ECUADOR!