XVP writes from Ecuador 9 June 2006

 XVP writes from Ecuador 9 June 2006

Sam Duffy and Alice Marwick, XVP volunteers in Ecuador, send this report from San Felipe Neri Jesuit High School, Riobamba.

So, after nearly ten months living here in Riobamba, Ecuador and having survived earthquakes, riots, volcanic eruptions and an army of twelve year old school children, here we are writing our last report. We can't believe our time here is coming to a close so soon. Time certainly travels fast.

The last few months have been hectic with the usual agenda; preparing kids for exams, promoting the volunteer work in Tunshi and last minute souvenir shopping. (Ed.: Tunshi is a poor mountain village of indigenous people where Sam & Alice have worked in the school; they've developed a programme linking their city school with the villages and have brought their own senior students out to Tunshi to help in this).

We have spent the past few months leading from Easter wrapping up everything that was set for us to do since September. Thankfully we were allowed back up to Tunshi in the last few months after the political situation had calmed down. San Felipe had organized a local nurse to come up with us to the school to do health checks on the children. When they found out Sam is going to study medicine in the upcoming years they decided to give him some early first hand experience helping out with the examinations. The majority of children had worms, lice and various other ailments, which are a result of poor hygiene and diet. This is hardly a surprise after witnessing the conditions of their homes and lifestyle.

Last week marked our final visit to the schools with final rehearsals of all the songs we have taught them all year in English and a competitive football game to wrap it all up. It's clear that World Cup spirit has arrived early here in Ecuador. We were sorry to say bye to the kids because they have really been enthusiastic about our visits all year. We hope they remember us fondly as we most certainly will them.

With regards to San Felipe, we finished classes at the end of May with nothing but exams for the kids to look forward to. Unpredictably, a group of Alice's students turned up at her house with 'thank-you' cards and a thoughtful gift ­- two feisty hamsters named Alice and Sam. We feel safe leaving them behind as hamsters are one of the few household pets that Ecuadorians don't eat.

In light of our experiences working in Tunshi, the San Felipe students were set the task of writing a report of everything we have done and presenting it to the directors of the school and various parents connected to the school. The aim was to promote a stronger link between the Jesuit schools in Riobamba with the indigenous schools in the outskirts of the city. We hope in the long-term this will help bridge the social gap that is so evident in the whole of Ecuador. We both agree that the problems with poverty here is a result of the great class divide between the indigenous population and the middle classes. Few of the laws passed in Ecuador are in favour of the indigenous. The middle class feel that the indigenous are holding them back in economical and political growth, preventing Ecuador from competing in a growing world market. The indigenous rightly feel that the sacrifice of their homes, land and work for a richer Ecuador (from which they would gain no benefit) is one not worth making. They would simply not be capable of competing on any level against rivals from other South American countries.

In addition, we feel that Ecuadorians are too narrow-minded and set in their ways to do anything about the social gap themselves. Prejudice against foreigners and lack of political authority has left them drowned out and unheard in the larger political circle. It has also given leeway for the country to fill itself with corruption from the working class to higher political figures. It would be ambitious of us to try and do anything more about this way of thinking because believe us its unwanted.

With only a week left living in our Ecuadorian homes, the time has come to say our goodbyes to our host families. This is a lot harder than we anticipated as we have both grown attached to our families in all sorts of ways after almost a year living together. We will miss the stronger family bonds that Ecuadorian share amongst themselves ­ a value which may have been lost in the modern western world. From the beginning, we have been treated as one of their own, from house rules to family secrets, which has made our time here more unique. Not only has our Spanish improved greatly, but we had the opportunity to experience an alien culture first-hand which our American colleagues feel they missed out on, living in an apartment. From hearty family chats to roasted guinea pig, we have adapted and absorbed a new culture and language Que bueno!

And now for the Oscar speech

We would like to give our thanks to all who made this experience possible for us, especially XVP's travel consultant Steve at www.myvisaadviser.co.uk who organised flights, visas etc. and Fr. Dave, XVP's Director, who has been behind us all year, offering support and advice. Cheers old boy!

Also to our Ecuadorian familiesgracias por todo!

And, of course, our dedicated readers!

Finally, good luck to all the volunteers currently working abroad for all different causes and to those considering voluntary placements in the future.

Hasta Luego!
Sam and Alice x

Sam Duffy & Alice Marwick, former students respectively of St Aloysius College (SJ) in Glasgow and St Thomas of Aqin, Edinburgh, have been serving on the Xavier Volunteer Programme with the Ecuadorean Jesuits' in Riobamba, Ecuador. Not only did they teach English in the Jesuit school but they also served in a mountain village school for indigenous "campesino" children, and set up programmes for their San Felipe students to do the same. To contact Sam & Alice, write to the XVP office in the Mount Street Jesuit Centre, London W1, volunteers@xvp.org.uk.

Share this story