Archive of ‘Ecuador’ category

The Day I Met My Sponsored Child

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When I was 16, medications God really put the nation of Kenya on my heart. I did a huge project on Kenya, focusing on the kids who live in the slums of Nairobi. After completing my project, I felt like God was calling me to do something about everything I had learned. I decided to effect change in the nation of Kenya by making a difference in the life of one girl through child sponsorship. Compassion International is a world-wide non-profit organization that believes that we can transform nations by making a difference in the life of individual children, releasing them from poverty in the name of Jesus. Compassion is a highly respected organization that consistently gets high ratings for its financial responsibility, transparency, and effectiveness. Compassion is not just about donating monthly to help meet financial needs of a child living in poverty, but also about building a relationship with your Compassion child, writing letters to encourage them and let them know that there’s someone who believes in them and their dreams.

For the past 5 years I have sponsored Fresiah, a girl my age who lives in Kenya. I am ridiculously proud of her and thankful for our relationship. In Kenya, most girls don’t finish school, especially those who are living in poverty. Fresiah is 20 years old and has graduated from school and is making plans for college. It has been amazing to be a small part of her life and see how child sponsorship really does make a difference. Fresiah is now equipped with an education and dreams and a desire to give back to her community by becoming a policewoman. Empowering children, especially girls, has the ability to absolutely change our world for the better. And showing children that they are valuable and loved by their sponsor and by God brings the Kingdom of God to earth.

One of the sad parts about sponsoring Fresiah is that I most likely will never meet her in person. But before coming to Ecuador, I realized that I could make the difference in another child’s life not only through another sponsorship, but through meeting them. God really laid it on my heart to sponsor a girl in Ecuador, and so that’s what I did.

I chose to sponsor Emily because of her proximity to Quito, where I am living, and because she had been waiting a long time (I want to say over 200 days) for a sponsor. I received her first letter a few weeks after choosing to sponsor her. She told me about herself. She asked me to pray for her family. She thanked me for choosing her. And she asked me if I love her like she loves me.

Living in a country with widespread poverty, where Compassion sponsored children live, can be incredibly heart-breaking. Quito is filled with street children who work shining shoes or selling gum, who ask for money so they can eat and go to school. It feels really overwhelming to constantly see these kids and know that I can’t help them all. I can give them a smile and a small amount of money, but I can’t change their lives. But I can help Emily. I can make a difference in her life.

I started planning my visit with Emily last semester and earlier this week it finally happened! Oh my goodness this girl is a sweetheart and so full of life! I spent the day with Emily, her mom, and her two younger brothers (who are 7 years old and 8 months). Compassion picked me up in a van at my apartment in Quito. I got in the car and saw Emily and her family. She immediately gave me a huge hug. It was the best. On the car ride she asked me about all my favorite things–color, shape, school subject, animal, game, candy, food, you name it! I learned that she wants to be a math teacher when she grows up–she really loves school and math is her favorite. We also both love chocolate candy and chocolate ice cream.

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We first went to the mall where we mostly just ran around and went up and down the escalators, a HUGE source of entertainment! Then we went to Emily’s town where there was a carnival going on. We played foosball and did the bumper cars and went on a small roller coaster. It was so awesome to see Emily and her brother just get to play and have fun. We had lunch and then went to Emily’s home. I realize as I’m writing this post that I didn’t take any pictures of Emily’s town or her neighborhood. I think part of it was that I was busy focusing on her, but the other aspect is that I’ve traveled around Ecuador a lot and have seen dozens of these towns that look the same and struggle with serious poverty, and so I didn’t even think to photograph it.

Both of Emily’s parents are unemployed right now and are living in a floor of a house owned by a family member. The house is located in a more dilapidated area but inside it is very clean and nice. I got to see Emily’s room and all her school work (she gets excellent grades) and toys.

Emily’s mom told us about how Emily had waited so long for a sponsor (or godmother, as they say in their Compassion project) and how when they had heard that Emily had been chosen they had been SO EXCITED! And then they couldn’t believe it when they heard that her godmother would be visiting. Emily opened the backpack of presents I had brought for her, including things like notebooks, The Jesus Storybook Bible in Spanish, a stuffed animal, markers, clothes, and candy. She was so sweet in that she opened a package of candy and immediately gave each of us a piece of chocolate. And then she went to try on a bunch of her clothes! She was so cute.

Saying goodbye was hard. And it was hard, too, to explain why I can’t visit every week, even though I live so close. Every child visit is organized through Compassion and takes a lot of planning and does require that you pay some fees, meaning I will probably only see Emily one more time before I leave Ecuador.

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Some Reflections on my Visit:

  • Your sponsored child absolutely loves you. I have only been sponsoring Emily for a few months but she already loves me with all her heart. Children tend to have such an openness and vulnerability about them. They give love so easily. Sponsorship is  a way you can show a child how much you love them and care about them, and visiting your sponsored child or writing them a lot of letters is a way you can teach them to continue to love exuberantly, instead of teaching them to grow cynical and distrustful.
  • One of the hard things about the trip is that Compassion couldn’t tell me how old Emily’s siblings were (or how many she had) and so I had no idea how to bring presents for her siblings. During my visit, I learned that there are not enough spots in the Compassion program for her younger brother to be sponsored. Both of Emily’s younger siblings spent the whole day with us and her younger brother got to do all the things Emily did, but it was clearly still very hard for him to not have a sponsor and not get the gifts that Emily got. If I see Emily again, I will know about her brothers and be able to get them gifts, but it was a hard thing to see her brother feel left out and not as special as his older sister.
  • While we were at the carnival in Emily’s town, a rural, poor city south of Quito, we saw a father come to the fair, find his daughter, grab her, call her a bitch, hit her in the face, and drag her to their car. From what I gathered, she hadn’t asked for permission to come to the carnival after school. I was stunned and horrified. Everyone saw a father abuse his daughter in public and no one did anything. I desperately wish I had known what to do, or that I had done something. If I were in the U.S., I would have stopped that man, called the police, gotten the license number of the car, gotten child services involved, etc. But I was in a different country, different culture, with a language barrier, and was with Emily and her family. In Ecuador, the majority of children are abused. 41% of Ecuadorian children report being hit at home. 21% of Ecuadorian children have experienced sexual abuse. 70% of Ecuadorian children have been victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, or negligence. Many people view this abuse as normal. And a completely inadequate and inattentive police force does very little to protect children or women. I think the only mildly encouraging thing about witnessing this abuse is that Emily asked questions about it and did not act as though this was something normal for her life.
  • Emily and her family live about a 30 minute walk from school, crossing some major roads on the way. Therefore, Emily and her brother take the school bus. However, the school bus is not free. Her parents pay $30 a month for the school bus service. Can you imagine being a family living in poverty, most likely making less than $2/day (or nothing if you’re currently unemployed) and having to find the money to pay just for your kids to get to school? For as many problems as the U.S. school system has, we at least offer free education and transportation to and from school. That is just not the case for much of the world.
  • After I had said goodbyes, I rode with the translator from Compassion back to Quito. She said that she was surprised that Emily had a house, because most of the children don’t have a place to live, and that Emily was very lucky. It should break our hearts that for many children around the world, the very real reality is that if they have a roof over their heads, no matter how small, they are luckier than many of the children around them.

I am so thankful that I got to do this visit and meet and connect with Emily. This girl really is amazing, and we have quite a bit in common. We’re both driven, lively, and a little bossy with our younger siblings ;) My sponsorship of Emily will most likely continue for the next 10 years or so, and getting the chance to actually meet her was an amazing experience for both of us. I know it will make it easier for us to connect through letters and pray for each other as we continue our relationship.

But, as I’ve tried to convey in this post, there were parts of my visit that were really disturbing, unsettling, and sad. I think that’s probably how it should be. We shouldn’t be able to see poverty and not get unsettled by it. I am thankful that I still get heartbroken when I see street kids, that I didn’t come away from my Compassion visit with just happy feelings. Living in Ecuador I’ve seen middle and upper class Ecuadorians treat the poverty and abuse prevalent in their country as very normal. I think it sometimes takes an outside perspective to see the extent of the problem in another country, I know this is true for me when it comes to witnessing the prevalent issues in the U.S. We have to fight to not become complacent just because something is prevalent in our communities or because we don’t feel like we can do anything to help. We can’t help all the children of the world, but we can help one. And I’ve seen in the lives of two girls from across the world that it truly makes a difference.

I would love to answer any questions you may have about child sponsorship and very much encourage you to consider sponsoring a child through Compassion.

I Am Still Confident of This

I am still confident | www.heismakingeverythingnew.comCan I be honest? 

This first month of 2015 has not panned out quite how I had thought it would. It’s been filled with a lot of challenges and emotional ups and downs, discount but it feels like mostly downs.

It was incredibly difficult to leave my family and return to Ecuador for a second semester. Last semester in Ecuador was an incredible experience. I felt like God was constantly surprising me with new aspects of His character and in the things I saw Him doing around me. As I flip through journal entries from last semester, I’m reminded, and even surprised, by how much prayer I put in to the semester and by how God answered those prayers in magnificent ways. I felt like it was a semester of refinement for me, where the Lord really stretched my character and my abilities in ways that just wouldn’t have been possible had I stayed in Boston. And I truly am so thankful for it. I also made some incredible friends and was constantly challenged to face my day to day life with a heart of adventure. It really was an amazing semester.

But studying abroad is also exhausting. I’m always at least a little bit outside of my element and the constant street harassment and not feeling safe in my own city has worn on me. Living in a completely different country with a totally different culture is hard, as is being away from my family for so long.

My first week in Ecuador was really difficult. I landed and less than 24 hours later I got super sick with what turned out to be a stomach infection. How on earth did that even happen so fast? I was sick for several days meaning that I missed my first few days of classes and spent a lot of time alone in bed. This definitely didn’t make my transition back easier. Last semester I was amazed by how easy my transition was–I adjusted quickly and didn’t experience much homesickness. This time around has been pretty different. I’ve experienced more homesickness than ever before in my life, which has been a profoundly hard and new experience.

I’ve been continuously reminded of the importance of holding on to the promises of the Lord. I know that God has a specific purpose in me being in Ecuador for another semester. I know that He has already gone before me and prepared an Amilia-shaped space for me in this place. This has been something I’ve held onto tightly as I’ve struggled through this past week.

One Sunday morning before leaving for Ecuador I was at church and during the service there was a time where people took turns reading out scripture. One woman stood up and spoke out these words, “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” As soon as I heard those words, I felt God saying very strongly that this was His promise to me for 2015. Those words have been very powerful for me this first month of the new year. It’s been a reminder to be expectant to see the goodness of God here and now, in the land of the living. The following verse reads, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait on the Lord.” These words have reminded me that there is often an aspect of waiting to see the promises of God fulfilled. I don’t believe that the waiting is necessarily because God wants to withhold good things from us…I think sometimes we just don’t know what’s happening in the waiting because we see such a limited picture in the scope of the universe. But I do know that God is not ever far from us, and my prayer has been, “Lord, meet me in the waiting.”

I believe that God has special, joyous, and good surprises in store for me this semester, and even in my times with Jesus this week I’ve felt what it’s like to be met in the waiting, to learn in the waiting, to build an enthusiasm in this season for my day to day and for what is to come.

Things are already feeling easier as I’m physically feeling better and getting back to the swing of things. I am so thankful for all who have been praying for me and who have reached out to me these past few weeks–it has made a significant difference. I would absolutely love further prayer, encouragement, and words from the Lord as I live out my life here in Ecuador. It takes faith to say that I am still confident of the promises of the Lord, but praise God that He is so faithful and that we can expect to see His goodness in the land of the living.

The Trauma of Being a Woman

These posters were drawn by artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh and hung around major U.S. cities

These posters were drawn by artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh and hung around major U.S. cities to raise awareness about street harassment.

This semester in Quito I am volunteering at an organization called CEPAM, information pills which is a center the promotes the welfare of Ecuadorian women. The organization does research, phlebologist writes books, treatment and does community projects to educate people about gender violence. They also offer legal and psychological help to victims of domestic violence and other forms of abuse. One day in a staff meeting one of the women asked me what I wanted to do for a career and I answered trauma therapy. And she made a joke about the “trauma of being a woman.”

The trauma of being a woman has never been as apparent to me as it in now, living in Ecuador. There have been some times in my life that I’ve felt the trauma of just existing in a woman’s body–when I’m not affirmed as a leader at church because I’m a woman, when people don’t take me seriously because I’m just a girl, when I struggled for 12 years with horrible body image and an eating disorder partly because of society’s pressure for women to look perfect and skinny–but I’ve never felt it so acutely and so regularly as I do here in Quito.

Everywhere I go in Quito, I can expect to have men staring me down and making comments on my appearance as I walk by. This is absolutely constant and an every day occurrence. It makes it absolutely exhausting to go anywhere. Whenever I step outside of my apartment, I have to prepare myself. Anywhere I walk I have a blank expression on my face, I look straight ahead, and I do not smile or respond to anyone. I don’t like living like this. I enjoy smiling at people when they walk by and maybe saying a “Buenos días” as I pass people. But I can’t do that here because I don’t want to encourage any of the men who are staring at me and I want to try to avoid seeing the looks they give me and ignore the whistles or things they say. And it’s really hard.

For example, on a normal day the building manager who always greets me in the lobby calls me, “mi niña bonita” (my beautiful girl). Then I leave the apartment and walk to the bus where men either stare at me, very obviously, the entire time I walk by or whisper comments like, “Qué deliciosa” or “tstststs” in my ear as I walk by. Oh and let’s not forget the classic whistling. Then once on the bus I face other challenges. Besides having to be aware that at any moment someone could try to steal something from my bag (pick-pocketing is huge here), I have to navigate the uncomfortable situation of men who have absolutely no sense of personal space. One time I got so flustered by a guy who was standing pretty much on top of me that I got off at the wrong bus stop because I needed to get off the bus. And I’ve been lucky that so far I haven’t gotten groped or grabbed like several of the girls in our study abroad group. We’ve had experiences where Ecuadorian guys take pictures of us without our permission or friend us on facebook and then do not stop messaging us.

For anyone who’s reading this and thinks that I’m making too big of a deal out of this or that I should take it as a compliment that these guys are noticing me have clearly never had the experience of being victimized and objectified. I do not feel special when a guy comments on my appearance. What I do feel is objectified, as if I’m only walking by for his enjoyment and not because I actually have important things to do that day. I feel unsafe. I feel gross. I do not need the approval of random scumbags men on the street.

The thing is, street harassment happens everywhere, I’ve just been lucky enough to have not experienced it in the other places I’ve lived. Latin America has a machismo culture in which men think that being a man means harassing women. In Ecuador I see such an ignorance surrounding this issue. My family in Quito was telling me that on the coast on Ecuador there’s a lot of this sort of cat-calling, “Not like here in Quito where that doesn’t happen.” And I sat there dumbfounded. Let’s STOP saying that street harassment doesn’t happen and let’s STOP saying that it’s a compliment to women.

Why am I sharing all of this? It’s not to make you feel sorry for me or to make you worried about me or to make you scared of ever visiting Ecuador. I’m writing about my experience to raise awareness that street harassment is very real and many women have to deal with it every day. We need to do so much to educate young boys how to treat women with respect and to educate women that they deserve so much more than cat calls. To women who are being catcalled–stay strong and please keep the conversation going. To men who harass women or think catcalling is ok, please stop and please listen and understand what we’re communicating. I’m a real person. I have value. I deserve respect and to be able to walk in peace.

Life in the Clouds #ecuadorgroupselfies

This past weekend has been super busy and really fun! Saturday we went on a Quito City Tour with our BC group. I walked with another girl who lives close to me to the fútbol stadium a few blocks away where we all met up and got on our bus!

The first place we went is called El Panecillo and it’s a huge hill that gives you a great view of the city.

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At El Panecillo is a huge statue of the Virgin Mary, tuberculosis who protects the city. Those tentacles she’s stepping on represent demonic forces/Satan that she has crushed. At the time of the statue’s installation, resuscitator the Virgin was facing the entire city and protecting all of Quito. But since then, more has been added to Quito and much of it is impoverished housing. So the people who live in that part of Quito say that she has her back turned to them.

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Then we headed to the Historical Center of Quito, which was super pretty! There were lots of colorful houses. We saw the President’s house (top left)–it’s not where the President lives, only where he works. We also visited two churches–La Iglesia San Francisco and a Jesuit church as well, both built around 1570. They were both absolutely beautiful and so ornate–everything was coated in gold. We ate at a restaurant here and it was super rico (yummy). Steak is pretty cheap here so almost all of us had it and it was quite tasty!

8.23.6Then we headed to the volcano Pululahua. This volcano is still active, although there hasn’t been an eruption in around 500 years. Still I would not want to take the risk that a whole community is taking by living and farming inside this volcanic crater! Yes, that’s right! The elevation is so high that we were literally standing inside a cloud which was both amazing and cold. At first we couldn’t see anything inside of the crater:

8.23.4But then the wind shifted and we got to see a little glimpse of the community that lives below:

8.23.3That was a really special view :)

I’m really loving the group of BC students studying abroad with me and I feel like they get me because they are totally on board with my love for group selfies! Here was our first group selfie. Everything is white around us because we are in a cloud! (You can find us at #ecuadorgroupselfies).

8.23.1After this we went to La Mitad de Mundo, the center of the earth! I’m so happy I wore my pretty sandals because I, of course, had to take a picture of my feet as I straddled the equator.

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And here we had to do our second group selfie :) Of course you can’t really tell where we are but oh well!

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Last night most of us went out to the Foch, which is the area of clubs and restaurants. Yes, guys, I went clubbing. So not in my comfort zone but I actually had a lot of fun :)

Today we went to Papallacta, which is a hot spring that is fed by waters heated by a volcano! I don’t have a picture of it but just imagine crowded outdoor hot tubs. It was nice but we were scheduled to be there for 5 hours which was a little overkill! We stayed a couple hours and then took our bus back and then got ice cream at the mall. Today we did another group selfie, this time on the bus with “not-impressed” faces in response to the Papallacta thermal waters. Although I enjoyed myself :)

8.24.1I can’t believe I’ve only been in Ecuador for a little over a week. It feels much longer! Classes will start this Wednesday and I’m excited to get into more of a routine here.

God continues to be so faithful to me here. I’ve continued to have sweet times with the Lord and today I finished reading The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis. It was one of the best things I’ve ever read. I’m so glad my friend told me to read it since so many people write it off and skip it when reading the Chronicles of Narnia. Don’t skip it, people! There’s one chapter with Aslan that is so powerful–I was blown away by the goodness of God and just crying at how amazing He is. I feel like it added a lot of insight for my Lion of God research, which I’m loving :) I have a lot of blog posts I want to write and I’m going to try to alternate those with my Ecuador updates. Thank you all who keep checking in on me and praying for me! God is so amazing and so good and He keeps surprising me and amazing me with his love and affection every day :)

My First Days in Ecuador

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The view from my living room

I’ve only been in Ecuador for 3 days but it feels much longer! My flights on Saturday all went well. In Miami I met up with two other BC girls who are studying abroad with me and so when we got to Quito we were able to navigate immigration and customs together, dosage both of which were super easy. Our host families were waiting for us at the airport and greeted us with hugs and kisses. I rode to my new home with my family. I live in an apartment in the northern part of Quito with my host mom and two of her three kids–a 24 year old son and 29 year old daughter. They are all super sweet! There is also another daughter who lives on her own with her almost 3-year-old son.

The apartment is really nice–I have my own bedroom and bathroom which is awesome! Sunday was my first full day here. I woke up and showered. The shower was pretty cold which I found out was because the water is heated electrically and needs 3 hours to heat up! I was glad to know not all of my showers will be cold. My host mom made pancakes for breakfast which were delicious and after we all left and when to the market. The market we went to was really large and they sell pretty much everything. We were there to buy fruits and veggies. There were a ton that I’d never seen before! In Ecuador it’s super common to make your own fruit juices and so we bought naranjilla, breast which is a fruit native to this region, drugs to make into juice. We drank that with dinner–I thought it was good and reminded me a lot of dragon fruit.

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Las naranjillas are the orange fruits above the onions. The red fruit above the naranjillas is called tomate de arbol and is another fruit from this region. I haven’t tried it yet, though.

After the market we went to Itchimbia, which is a park at the top of a hill so you can see all of Quito. That was pretty awesome! At itchimbi there is also a building called the Palacio de Cristal where there are art exhibitions. We flew a kite at the park–it’s super windy here and colder than I was expecting! The highs have been around 70 degrees.

Our kite--Cometa

Our kite–Cometa

Yesterday we went to our school, la Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ). The university is in Cumbaya, about a 40minute-1 hour bus ride away. Our host moms went with us on the bus to show us the way. I take one bus for 2 stops and then get on another that brings me to Cumbaya. I have several other girls who live close to me so we can take the bus together which is good! The busses are pretty easy to navigate. The driving here is a little on the crazy side but not nearly as bad as in Haiti (but that’s not saying much at all!).

We got a quick tour of USFQ (which is very pretty) and then started our BC orientation and also took a Spanish placement test. This next week we will be taking an intensive Spanish class with the BC coordinator to help us especially with grammar. I definitely need the help!

USFQ

USFQ–Aren’t these mountains unreal?

Every evening I eat dinner with my family. A lot of the host families don’t really eat dinner–they have a large lunch and then something small for dinner. But my host mom is from the coast of Ecuador and there they eat 3 large meals a day, ha! So I get to have dinner with my family, which is nice. A normal dinner always has soup and rice and also meat (usually chicken) and veggies, plus fruit juice to drink. During the weekdays for breakfast I’ve been eating bread with cream cheese and jam along with fruit. My host mom is always trying to get me to eat more! We eat lunch at the school–there are a ton of restaurants nearby. Today I had a crepe with nutella and strawberries. It was THE BEST. I’m so glad nutella is a thing here!

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Quiet time with Froggy and Olaf!

The whole time I’ve been hear I’ve felt like the peace of the Lord has been over me. This adjustment has been better than I could ever have imagined and I know it’s because of all the prayers that I and others have prayed over this time abroad. For all of you who have been praying for me, THANK YOU! Your impact has been immeasurable. I continue to be blown away by the faithfulness of God. I’ve had sweet quiet times with the Lord each morning and am starting to study the image of God as a lion in scripture. This is a picture that has been significant for me this past year and keeps coming up, so I’m excited to see what God has to teach me :) I’ll probably blog about what I learn as well!

The physical adjustment to Quito has been a little harder than expected. My migraines haven’t been worse than usual (praise God!) but I have still had them. The altitude (over 9,000 feet) has made me feel really tired and also has made it hard to breath. My first two days here my heart started racing whenever I did anything the least bit active (aka make my bed) and my chest feels really tight when I breath, which I’m not so much a fan of. I also haven’t had much of an appetite. These side effects should hopefully be completely gone in the next few days!

Funny story–in my last post I wrote about how God told me to study abroad in Ecuador. I was really excited to come here but my first question was, “God, is it humid there??? Please don’t send me to a humid country!” Praise God for his faithfulness in the little things because Quito is super dry! This is great news for my hair but means I’m always thirsty and always need chap stick. But let’s be real, I only really care about my hair ;)

Right now I am watching Catching Fire en espanol on Netflix. Ecuador Netflix is sooo much better than in the U.S.! There are so many more options. It’s the best. Lots awaits me the next few weeks–lots of traveling, getting to know Quito better, the official USFQ orientation, and the beginning of classes! I’ll be sure to keep you updated on it all :)

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