Hi everybody!

The Ecuador team is now home safely and extremely grateful for our experiences. I’m sorry we weren’t able to blog while on the trip but I will try to recap the moments that stood out most to me. One of the first things the Shuar people shared with us upon our arrival was “Nothing is impossible for the Shuar.” That was the theme of our trip and just as nothing is impossible for the people we were working with, it seemed as though nothing was impossible for us. We faced physical obstacles that on paper seemed implausible. We carefully climbed up and down the side of a mountain to reach a beautiful waterfall. All 11 of us successfully made it to the waterfall despite the fact that there was no clear path and only a rope (and inspiring words) to guide us up and down. We carried large pieces of lumber through marshy fields to be the base of a welcoming center for future volunteers. We carried bags and bags of sand, soil, and rocks to build a bathroom. We used machetes to clear a safe path in the jungle where we spent a great deal of time learning about plants and animals. We swung on branches like Tarzan,  tried larvae, and slipped and fell on out butts (that was mainly just me) while exploring the Amazon. We learned traditional Shuar dances at night and listened to historical stories about Shuar beliefs. We bonded with the children and adults over origami, a craft that side-stepped any language barrier we faced in other situations.  Every day we climbed a muddy hill to reach our humble abode which became home to us and an assortment of insects that were as colorful as the Amazon and as big as our hands. 

This past week was the craziest week in my life. And I spent it with some of the most interesting and amazing people I have ever met. I should not have been surprised, but I was continuously amazed by how supportive my peers were of one another. It was inspirational to see how dedicated the Shuar were to preserving their people’s culture and land. The people we worked with loved everything about their land, their family, and their way of life. The Shuar people opened up their home to us and made it clear that we would always be welcome. Our group agreed that we all found a type of serenity in Arutam that is hard to find in our overly stimulated lives at home. It was so refreshing to have no access to cell phones or Internet. I felt so focused on who was around me and truly enjoyed the company and the work. Ecuador is a beautiful country filled with energetic and warm people and I feel so lucky to be part of a trip that was exposed to fulfilling service and unique culture. 

Thank you to all those who are posting- I am really enjoying reading about your experiences!!!

Last day at God’s Love

Today was our last day at God’s Love We Deliver and we were all really sad about it. We all had so much fun with the staff and other volunteers there and the cause is such a great concept. We helped pack-out again today, meaning we packaged the food to be delivered on Monday to the clients. Also, we chopped more turnips and carrots. After our delicious lunch, which we helped prepare the other day, we did walking deliveries to people living in the Soho area. We delivered to a house right across from Sandra Bullock’s house! The people were so appreciative and friendly. One older woman greeted us at the elevator to get her food. I will greatly miss this organization and Rethna and I are going to try to volunteer at their sister organization in Philly this summer together to continue doing our part to help out this awesome place.

Kids Say the Darndest Things

After completing our third day of service, my outlooks and thoughts on the trip are a little more cohesive. Our day began like the others, morning and early afternoon at the school, late afternoon at the boys and girls club. I finally had each kindergartener’s name memorized and began to know them all on a more personal level. What amazed me today was the insight and purity each youngster possessed, and the curious ways they articulated them. After learning the sounds that M and S make, I got to read a story about the wind! Before I handed out Quaker Oatmeal bars to each student, and since there are about 18 of them, I had to use two boxes. After passing out the first box and returning the my desk to grab the second, I observed something quite fantastic. About six students did not yet have an oatmeal bar, but the other twelve who had one in their possession were offering to give theirs up to suffice the snacking needs of their classmate. I was awed by the kindness these children showed. Unprompted, they all rose to the occasion to help those around them. In addition, many of the boys decided to “share” their snacks with me. We all had the same kind of bar (chocolate chip, delicious) but we would break ours in half and trade with someone. The end result was of course the same, but it was more the gesture of kindness these children demonstrated that I found satisfying.

I also learned I have the same sense of humor as a kindergartener. We were supposed to use plastic insects today to practice counting, but most of the boys were far too interested in playing to complete the activities (the girls were much more obedient, though it pains me to say it). One boy put the fly on his abdomen and said “Mr. Greg, I have to go to the nurse, I have a stomach bug!” It was hard to reprimand him when I found his joke gut-busting (excuse the pun). But after a quick laugh he moved on to counting in pairs.

Along with the humor aspect, I learned I have identical interests to an 8-10 year old. At the boys and girls club, most of the kids wanted nothing short of endless pool, ping pong, and foosball matches. To their dismay, we had an activity to complete before that. Brett and I, who together were in charge of about 20 pre-preteens, helped organize a service project for the Haiti Relief effort. The first day we brought it up, the kids had little to no interest in it. However today, we proposed writing letters to those affected telling them they were in our thoughts. To my amazement, once we gave the children something to be actively involved in, the thrived. Even some of the most troublesome boys settled down to write very thoughtful things. After a half hour of thoughtful writing and coloring we had a stack of personalized, handwritten letters. I explained to the boys that there were two kinds of needs the vicitms had, emotional and physical. We realized we were helping to appease the emotional needs, and decided to implement another part of the plan. Each children vowed to ask friends, family, and neighbors to donate non-perishable canned goods to aid in the effort. One child even proposed scouring his house for clothes and toys he outgrew. The children were excited to participate and it seems that the program will continue even after we leave Chicago. It’s great to see the kids get so involved in their own service, and that some would even step up as leaders to keep the effort going. And after all the work of course, we had time for foosball.

Overall today was one of the most meaningful days of service because every ounce of effort I put towards to kids was rebounded tenfold to me in a mixture of laughter, smiling, and exertion of effort to help one another and the world around them.

Loving Chicago!!

Where to even begin…the past few days have been such a fantastic experience.  On Tuesday we arrived in at Holy Family Lutheran School where we were each assigned to a different classroom/grade level.  I was placed in the second grade classroom with 16 seven-eight year olds.  Spending the past few days with them has been almost indescribable.  The feeling of walking into a cafeteria early in the morning and having student after student run up to me yelling “Miss K! Miss K!” giving me giants hugs, completely overjoyed is simply heartwarming.  From making copies of workbook sheets, to grading papers, to making signs for the classroom, and preforming other simple tasks for the teacher, the help is clearly appreciated.  Having the opportunity to also work one-on-one with the kids and see them grow even in three days has only added to the experience.  During our tour and introduction to the school we were given a brief background of the student body.  We were told that many, if not most, of the students come from low-income families, few with two parents and many with a single grandparent raising them.  Regardless of their home life and personal struggles, the school’s goal is to, for the day, help them forget about such things by giving them a place to come that they can be feel comfortable at and excited to go to.  This great sense of community was most seen  during chapel on Wednesday afternoon.  One of my favorite experiences thus far, chapel at the school was so unique.  With lots of singing, dancing, and yelling every student, pre-school to eighth grade, participated fully.  At the end the principal assigned all the students a question for their weekly chapel reflection.  Hearing the students back in the classroom talk about what they had learned at chapel and writing their chapel reflections shows that the school offers much more than an education.

After Holy Family, we took the bus a few blocks over to the Boys and Girls Club.  A much different atmosphere, here I was assigned to help the 6-7 year old age group with different activities.  As the days have passed, the progress of the kids has been substantial.  The struggles and background of the kids at the Boys and Girls Club are certainly more evident.  The contrast between the school and the boys and girls club has only made the learning experience for myself that much greater.  With a little time and patience, there has been a great opportunities to make a strong impression on the kids at the club.  They truly appreciate having us there and even in the short amount of time we have spent with them, see us all as role models, something the kids can never have enough of.

Leaving tomorrow and saying goodbye tomorrow will certainly not be easy.  It is comforting to know, however, that even in a week I was able to leave a positive impression on the students and putting a few smiles on their faces just as they did for me.

Ecuador update!

The Ecuador team has arrived in Atlanta. They had a great time, and they are trying to get through customs quickly to make their next flight.

Rice Galore!

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Delivery Day and So Much More!

Today, our group finished up the last of our van delivery trips. Each of us got to take a trip with one of the van drivers to different boroughs of the city to deliver the meals that we have been preparing all week!
I got the honor of driving with Narry to make his deliveries up to the Bronx. He shared his story about how he came to God’s Love, and I was amazed that he had been a driver for 10 years! He told me that he had experience driving most of the routes which makes him an incredibly valuable team member when there are so many clients to get to!
Today we had a client list of 52 at 42 different locations.  What most impressed me, was that he had memorized each stop on our route, as well as the particular directions that each client had given for their delivery. Most of the time I brought bags up to an apartment in a big complex, in which case I knocked on the door and waited for an answer. In some instances however, I was instructed to let myself right into the house and drop it off straight to the client, or leave it on a counter. It was clear that Narry had taken the time to get to know each of his clients, and they greatly appreciated his services. It was an honor to be able to work with him and see the project that we have been working on all week come full circle, and the smiles on each person’s face when they received their food.
The past two days, we have also been continuing our work in the kitchen. On Wednesday we unpacked, and individually marinaded 1600 salmon steaks, and the kitchen team today packaged each up as a meal to go out on deliveries tomorrow. On top of that we have still been doing our endless veggie chopping, as well as cake making, rice scooping, and sausage de-paning. We are quite the productive group! :)

Peace Be.

amazing. bright.inspiring.

Today was the best day of the New York Alternative School break trip so far in my opinion. I was so impressed with everyone today and they have shown me how they are all leaders in their own way.
The first person I met was a college graduate who decided to volunteer again after six years. I thought that the organization must have made a serious impression if he was volunteering regularly again. I started cutting carrots and onions and with my team, we cut up over 150 pounds of carrots and 200 onions. It was so rewarding to see all that food cut up by our team and how it will feed the 1,600 clients the organization has on their list.
The lunches were the meals the organization serves their clients who are immuno-compromised. They were delicious! It was so much different than I pictured. For the second shift, our teams broke up into groups and were working on different things. Lindsay, Ariel, Hannah, Alex, and Jess wrapped 1,600 whole grain rolls in plastic wrap and filled up boxes with it. We then joined the rest of our team and cut up the mushrooms and potatoes. Bridget and Tracy worked on desserts and met some interesting volunteers, It was great to see how people of all backgrounds found something in this cause and were sticking with it. The kitchen was decorated with tiles with numerous named printed on them with red hearts, making the whole place warmer and more welcoming. One could really see the lives of the people this organization has touched and I was honored to be a part of that.