Reflections from Amizade’s Andean Semester Students

by Amizade Global Service-Learning

Nine students headed for a semester in Bolivia with Amizade were rerouted to Ecuador this fall. Here are some excerpts from their blogs and letters home. Amizade’s Andean Semester program will return to Bolivia in January for the spring 2009 semester.

Travel Adventures in the Cloud Forest: We went on a hike through the cloud forest and planted coffee trees …From the house where we stayed, there was a clear view of a mountain that sits directly on the equator. Friday night, we brought out a few guitars, a tambourine, a maraca, some kind of flute, and a few more random instruments and had a nice jam session. [Ecuadorians] played some Spanish songs and we contributed great ones like Livin´ on a Prayer and some Oasis …On Saturday, we headed to Mindo, a lush, lower-elevation area, with great waterfalls and forests. The hostel looked just like a tree house: There´s something exciting about having to use a mosquito net at night. — Sarah, West Virginia University

Learning from Ecuador’s Political Process: So here in Ecuador the President is trying to pass a new constitution … and all citizens are required to vote. This way the government will actually know what the people want, what a thought! …Ecuador goes through a new constitution about every 10 years or so, on average. It almost always happens because the lower and middle class think a new constitution will improve their lives. But…with this latest constitution this is one of the pretty awesome things they put in on environmental protection. I think that other countries could stand to take a lesson from Ecuador’s constitution and step up their protection of the environment or at least acknowledge that the environment is worth protecting. — Ashley, University of Pittsburgh

Inspired by the Day of the Dead Celebration: We went with our indigenous families to the cemetery … they all bring food, sit on the graves of their loved ones and talk and laugh and eat a lot of food. They take little bowls of their food and trade for little bowls of other people’s food; they mix everything together in a big bag or bucket and then share all the tasty food. It was a lot of fun, people were not sad at all. -– Ashley, University of Pittsburgh

Visiting an Impoverished Community on the Coast: After our time in the clinic we went on an eye opening, heart shattering stroll through the depths of the community. Anyone who came upon an uninhabited plot of the land could live there as long as they maintained it. The houses that we saw were unlike anything I have ever imagined, slightly comparable to tree houses built hastily by children. Mounds of trash were piled high, surrounding the houses like shrubbery in a suburb, and filthy children were playing with bottles like toys in the dusty streets… Amidst the poverty there was still perfection. Smiley mothers kissing the heads of their beautiful babies. Children tickling each other into fits of laughter. Old men conversing over a Pilsner. As I left my head was clouded with questions about the connection between money and happiness. I could not stop thinking about the overwhelming excess that consumes our everyday life and wondering if we are better or worse from it. — Leigh, West Virginia University

A Community Meeting and Fest: [We] gringos were the special guests as we sat and watched the leaders trying to encourage the indigenous farmers to invest their money in the cement company. Some of them looked more out of the loop than we were and the presentation was in Spanish. After all of that talking, it was time for the fiesta to begin. They did a bunch of beautiful native dances for us…they even had us join in. …Before I knew it a guitar was thrust into my hands and I was told to sing one of my songs. … “But Nick they can’t understand English,” I said as he handed me my guitar. “So what,” he shot back. “Did you just understand anything that they were singing in Quechua?” Good point. So I anxiously started strumming, with my friends singing along… After the song, the dancing continued…. As the night was winding down, I got up the courage to go over and talk to two giggly, whispering indigenous girls …they turned out to be 12. I played while they sang a song in Quechua… As we sleepily stumbled back to our beds I felt a twang of longing for the sense of community and jaw-dropping beauty that the Quechua people have. — Leigh, West Virginia University