Friday, March 02, 2012

Ecuador with OSSO

What I think we all learned from our Humanitarian trip to Ecuador:
1) We are very fortunate -- where we live, how we live, our opportunities etc.
2) But you don't have to have all the "luxuries" we enjoy to be happy.
3) We are so blessed to be part of a family.
4) The orphans at the orphanages we served in are loved and well provided for by those who work there. They are part of a different kind of family.
5) However, our volunteer help provided the opportunity for the kids in the orphanage to go on a walk, play outside, be talked to and played with one-on-one. Also to get an extra hug and a kiss each day.

I'd been wanting to take this trip for over a year. Last year I had been researching Service Trips for Courtney when I found the opportunity for our family to serve together through OSSO -- Orphanage Support Services Organization. At first Dan thought I was wanting to adopt a baby. He was not excited about it.

But as the year moved on his viewpoint changed. April Conference seemed to say "serve." He started reading what I had read about the organization and the orphanages and he got on board. We've taken our kids on a lot of fun, indulgent trips. We both agreed it was time to do something with our kids that would be "giving back."

Unfortunately our kids only had a week and a couple of days off for Christmas break. But Christmas was when many OSSO volunteers went home and they really needed people to serve.  The more we thought about it, the more appropriate it seemed to show gratitude for birth of our Savior by spending Christmas serving others.

We celebrated "Express Christmas" on Thursday, the first day the kids were out of school.  Friday morning we left to Ecuador and arrived late that night.  Because of Dan's flight status, we could check 14 bags. As a result we were able to bring much needed clothes, soap, toothpaste, and toys for the children and poorer families as well as office supplies, movies and treats for the OSSO house volunteers.
OSSO Living Room
The OSSO house is in the heart of Quito. The cinder block building is surrounded by a cinder block wall, but the small interior courtyard boasts a patch of grass, a few tropical plants and a small concrete pad with basketball hoop and soccer balls. Having lived in New York, we always appreciate opportunists who see the value of a strip of grass among all that concrete.

We were met at the airport by our "house parents," a young couple overseeing OSSO operations for two years. Jen had been an OSSO volunteer many years prior and Scott had been a missionary in Ecuador. Once at the OSSO house, it was late and we went straight to our rooms for bed.  Our family had a private 2-room apartment on the 3rd floor.  A main room with a couch and 6 simple bunkbeds for the kids. A separate bedroom for Dan and I (twin beds) and we all shared a bathroom (whatever you do, don't drink the water)! Ecuador is (on the equator!) warm so we all slept with just a sheet and a blanket.
Quito, Ecuador
One view out the window
Another window view

Nick and Chris' corner
The Kids' room
Mine and Dan's room
Our first full day, Saturday, was Christmas Eve. Because of the time difference and elevation, we planned to take things easy that day.  After we woke up we took a van downtown to see the city. The Basilica towered over the city and instead of gargoyles had animals indiginous to Ecuador popping out from it.

That evening, everyone from the house took a van to the all-boy's orphanage about an hour outside of the city.  Over 30 boys and a few girls live here.  They are looked after by a man and woman who are Protestant missionaries and called to serve in the orphanage.  The main house has a living area and kitchen with bunk rooms upstairs.  A separate dormitory has bunkbeds lined up one after the other, group shower facilities and bathrooms and a TV/computer area.  The entire place was spotless. Outside they had a wonderful playground and yard which had been recently donated by the Protestant congregation.

The oldest boys wake up at 4:00, shower and dress and then each are in charge of helping a younger boy get up and dressed.  They do their chores and then they usually go to school, but their van had been broken for several weeks so they had no transportation. When we came home both Dan and I felt strongly about contributing to their new van so they can get to school.  It was purchased a few weeks ago.

That night the boys performed a song they had choreographed then for a few minutes we all stood awkwardly around trying to think of what to say and do.  About 35 boys and 5 girls ages 2 - 16, 10 adults, our family and 10 girls from OSSO. But soon we were all playing and trying to communicate but mostly smiling and laughing.  Marty and Christopher were giving a group of boys piggy back rides. Dan was playing with a group of kids hanging on him.  Courtney and I started doing the hand-slap game "Down by the Banks" with a group and it was a hit! The kids loved trying to learn the song in English.  We tried to translate to Spanish but once they learned what a "bullfrog" and a "bank and "BA-ROOM" was, they wanted to learn it in English.

What I thought was most interesting is how they were all such good sports.  When they got out, nobody complained -- they laughed and cheered the final winner and then got ready to play again.  It made the game so much fun.

Due to government restrictions, we aren't allowed to post any pictures of the children from the orphanages on any public website.  We have lots of photos at home, but unfortunately I can't post any on my blog. 

The next morning was Christmas.  Even though we had "Express Christmas" at home, Santa brought gifts for our stockings in Ecuador!  After stockings, we went to Sacrament Meeting. We had fun trying to translate what Christmas Carol we were going to sing.

That afternoon we went with the OSSO volunteers out to a very poor neighborhood.  The Ecuadorian family who lives at OSSO house had coordinated with a neighbor to bring Christmas gifts and candy to children in this neighborhood.  All the neighborhood families and us gathered on a concrete roof of a house that was built below ground level. Not underground, but on a slope which put their backyard facing out but their roof at street level. Trash was tossed over the hill at the end of the street. Everything was gray cinder block with no paint but the street was done in pavers. Apparently people build houses wherever they can. After 7 years, the government will bring services--electricity, not sure about water--and pave the street.

The lady in charge called out a name of a child and their age and our kids and the OSSO girls took turns giving them a wrapped present and a bag of candy.

That night we had a special Christmas dinner at the OSSO house. It was fun sitting around the huge table getting to know everyone.

Monday morning we had our first assignments.  The boys were going to the main orphanage for a five-hour morning shift (starting extra early Utah-time). Courtney and I were assigned to the Special Kids Girls house -- 5 mentally and physically handicapped girls who lived with foster parents. The once a week that the OSSO girls game was their one time they got to go on a "field trip" -- a walk out of the complex to the store at the end of the street. We bought treats and walked back to the playground at the apartment complex. For the next couple of hours we did crafts, drew with sidewalk chalk and painted pictures.  None of the girls could talk but one could make sounds.  Another was in her 20's and couldn't speak but was less mentally challenged and tried to take care of the others. I took the youngest, 10 years old, on walks. She had trouble bending her knees and wore braces on her arms so she needed help walking and going up and down stairs.  She loved trying.

I put her on my lap and we swung on the swings. Some other little girls who lived in the complex noticed us and started talking to me. I told them in broken Spanish that my name was Angela and I was from the United States but I didn't speak much Spanish.  They laughed and giggled thinking that was the funniest thing ever. They asked about my "friend" -- what her name was and how old she was. They talked to her and I told them she could hear them but couldn't speak. They were very sweet to her.  After that she wanted to follow them around the playground. I wondered if she was just wanting to be with kids her age since she never got to be.

That day we got home before the boys. I didn't know how tired they would be. Wasn't sure what they would have thought of their long day at the baby orphanage (children between 6 months and 2 years). When Marty and Chris walked in the door they had huge smiles on their faces.  "How was it?" I asked. "So great!" They both replied. "The kids were so cute!"

Wow! It was better than I had expected. No complaints. No grumbling. Pure kindness.  The day was understandably a little long for Nicholas. He needed breaks to go play on the playground and often wanted to know how much longer.  But he did so good!

That afternoon we rested and then had a nice dinner.  Each morning we ate a simple breakfast at the OSSO house and at lunch ladies came and prepared lunch for all the volunteers. But at night dinner was on your own and Dan made sure we went out to nice restaurants each night.

Tuesday morning we went to the Equator. When we first started talking about this trip, Marty said we could jump from side-to-side "Winter, Summer, Winter, Summer." It kind of became our mantra whenever we talked about Ecuador.  It was actually really cool to be right on the equator.

Winter, Summer, Winter, Summer

Just past equator where volcano collapsed into itself
Courtney and the Llama
That afternoon we all went to the baby orphanage.  Courtney went with the babies. You weren't supposed to hold any of the children, including the babies, unless they were really crying. She made their bottles, changed them and helped settle them down.

Nicholas and I were in the 6 months to walking room.  We would move them around from their johnny jump-ups to their walkers to playing games on the floor. At the end of the afternoon, we fed them their soup and got them in their pajamas then put them in their cribs with their bottles.  They went to bed early but only got one nap a day so they were tired.

Dan, Chris and Marty were with the newly walking kids to 2 years old. They played games a bit more and got to go outside and play in the yard and go on walks.

Wednesday we went to Otovalo -- the largest outdoor market in South America. We all loved shopping and bargaining. We ate lunch at a wonderful restaurant with a large grassy yard and beautiful garden. It was so fun for the kids to run and play while we were waiting for our food.

Thursday we all went back to the baby orphanage for the morning shift.  I got the older kids that day and Dan was in with the youngers. The boys took turns in each room and Courtney was with the babies again. By this day Marty and Christopher knew all the kids' names. They were very cute playing with them and talking to them in Spanish.

That afternoon we went back to the house for lunch and then went out the the Special Kids Boys orphanage. There were about 7 boys who were mentally handicapped but very capable physically. We were planning to take them on a field trip up a tram to the highest mountain peak in the area. If we were willing to pay, we could treat the boys to a rare excursion which was also a fun outing for us as well.  As it turned out, their house parents had never been to the tram either and wanted to come. What fun! We crowded about 17 of us into the van and went off on our adventure.

Dan waited in the long line to buy our tickets and just as he was purchasing, our van driver found us and joined our group! I sent Marty running back to Dan to make sure he got a ticket for our driver as well.  The tickets were not expensive and it was so fun to treat our big group. Of course by this time our driver felt like family as he had carted our own family all over quite a bit, so we were glad he wanted to join us!

The top of the mountain was a beautiful view of the entire area. We hiked all over the area. The boys would hold our hands so tight and the one with me wanted to walk so fast! He didn't talk but would pull me along. It was super high elevation (good thing I'd had my surgery!) and fortunately I knew how to say, "mas despacio, por favor" so he would slow down and wait for the others.

Friday we went to Mindo--about 2 hours out of the city.  We went zip lining which was a blast for everyone! As we left, it started downpouring. Our next adventure was a hike down to a waterslide into a river. We weren't sure we wanted to hike in the rain and mud, but we decided to go for it.  We were so glad we did! On the way down we found a rope swing and a vine swing that the kids loved. We were hiking through total jungle--so different from any hikes we've been on in the U.S. Actually it was a lot like Hawaii.

At the bottom and old concrete slide zipped the kids to a 10 foot drop into the freezing river below. Of course they loved it. The only instructions from the people ahead of us were "slow yourself down around the first curve or you'll go over." My instructions to the kids were, "stay away from the open 20 foot drop to the rocks below." Of course this "resort" would never fly in the U.S. but aren't we glad some places let you still have fun!  Dan wasn't going to let Nick go and he was so hearbroken. Finally we agreed with Marty catching him in front and Christopher following close behind.  Keep in mind they dropped into a river with only a rope downstream for you to grab onto so you weren't carried to the rapids further down. It actually wasn't flowing so fast that we were worried.

We were freezing cold when we got to the top and it was still raining but the boys were dying to sit in the open bed of the truck to our next stop.  I tried to talk them out of it but they insisted. After 1 minute they were miserable, but they got their wish. (About a 30 minute drive!)

Our last stop was tubing down the river on 6 giant tubes lashed together. We were freezing and shivering and not sure we wanted to do this either, but after loving the last adventure we'd been skeptical about, we decided to give it a try.  What a blast! We all laughed so hard as this giant contraption flew down the river and the guides pushed us over and through the rocks.  You won't get a tubing ride like that in the states either!

We got back to the OSSO house in time to shower and pack and head to the airport.  What a way to spend our last day in Ecuador.  As I'm typing this, Marty just commented, "We should go again next year.  Not at Christmas, but in the summer."  What a blessing it was to be able to spend a little time in a different part of the world, out of our comfort zone, with our family, getting to love the children and volunteers in the orphanages of Quito.


Blue said...

What a fantastic account, Angela! So great that you could do that as an entire family. ♥

Michelle said...

Ah, what took me so long to check-in and read about your trip? I'd been wondering about it and checked a few times back in January (I suppose i should have just called...but you know how that goes :-). What a great experience!