An Unplanned Adventure

When I was a college student in 1972, I spent my junior year abroad in Quito through the University of New Mexico branch school there called El Centro Andino. There were very few foreigners visiting or living in Ecuador at that time. Letters took two weeks to arrive; telephone calls were difficult and of course there was no internet or “globalization”.  I was truly immersed in the culture.  I fell in love with the country and its people.  After raising two children, I decided to return to Ecuador as a tourist in 2005 and was reminded of my love for the country and also all that its people had given to me, and I asked myself what could I do in return?

I found an opportunity on the internet and returned to Quito to be a volunteer in a shelter  run by nuns for abandoned and abused girls between 12 and 18 years old. Since I am a middle school teacher, I thought this would be the perfect fit for me. Through the experience I learned that while the shelter was highly beneficial, there was a dearth of support for the girls once they left at age 18.  Many of the girls had nowhere to go, hadn’t finished school, had no life skills, and faced a bleak future.  I had to do something to help them.

I became friends with the shelter’s social worker and joined an Ecuadorian foundation that she and some of her colleagues had established to help these girls.  With donations I received in the U.S., I rented an apartment next door to the social worker’s, bought bunk beds and linens, and set up house for three girls who were leaving the shelter, but had nowhere to go.

The apartment provided shelter while the social worker helped them with social and monetary issues.  One needed a place to live while she looked for a job.  She stayed in the apartment for four months.  Another lacked a year to finish high school.  Her Godfather in the United States paid for school and the Foundation paid for shelter.  She graduated high school the following June and found work.  The third girl we helped, Jessica, never had an established home in her life.  After bouncing around the homes of relatives throughout her life, she ended up living with her mother in prison (a common practice in Ecuador at the time). When her mother was released from prison she couldn’t provide a stable environment for Jessica, so we put Jessica in the apartment.  She was 16 years old with a 7th grade education.  The foundation provided her with shelter and enrolled her in an accelerated academic program so she could complete school more quickly.  We are still in contact and see each other every summer that I visit.

In 2007, the social worker was moved to a different shelter near the equator.  I moved along with her. The shelter houses children from infants to around 8 years old.  I have worked there the past three summers.  Donations raised from my fundraising efforts during the school year have shifted to benefit relatives willing to house abandoned and abused children, provides $150 scholarships to kids who otherwise couldn’t attend school, and pays for clothing and medicine for the shelter.

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