By Samantha Muratori
Estero de Plátano is a peaceful fishing village on the coast of Ecuador completely undisturbed by modern technology or outside enterprises. After living in this rustic paradise for seven months, I have become envious of their resourceful nature. While the town has three small shops and four restaurants, the townspeople supply for themselves by looking for their own octopus in the reef, catching shrimp in the river or buying the catch of the day from the fishermen at 7 a.m. on the beach.
The homes are all built with resources found in their own “fincas” (jungle farms), bamboo and wood for the frame and dried leaves for the thatched roofs. While it helps that most of the community has some type of familial connection, they live off of a very pleasant barter system and try to help out anyone in need.
As the fifth generation of Minerva Fellows in Estero, the town welcomed us with open arms and dozens of mandarinas. Their eager manner hinted at how important the volunteers are to the people of the town, which made us feel accepted very quickly.
We live in different homestays and move every few months in order to financially support a wider range of people. I have lived with two families and am about to switch to my third. I am still a bit taken aback with how quickly we have become accustomed to each home and how naturally the family takes us in and loves us as their own.
Each year, the Ecuador Minerva Fellowship is a blank canvas and the new Fellows have the opportunity to do something original.
The NGO we work for, the Yanapuma Foundation, has just one required task of us, and that is to mentor a group of 10 scholarship students. Yanapuma encourages us to seek out the wants of the people and create our own mission and projects. As a compulsive planner, the lack of schedule, lack of structure and the freedom was intimidating, yet exhilarating.
My fellow Fellow, Gabriella Romero, and I work like a well-oiled machine. We surveyed the town in the early months to see what could be improved and what we could help out with.
The town responded very well to the idea of a park for children. Our second idea was to create a small tourism cabana, complete with a bulletin board of weekly news and promotions along with a first-aid station for emergencies.
While we created the design for the playground and the “centro de informacion,” the townspeople taught us how to sand, saw, power-drill and weave. We have been so lucky to be able to work so flawlessly together as a team.
What has been most rewarding has been the passion that our friends have shown toward helping complete our projects and how many different people have offered us help. In this town, a lot of things move very slowly — the bus schedule, meeting times, store openings — and that is just the norm.
I have so much love for the town of Estero de Plátano, but they are a disorganized bunch. The president of the town resigned over a year ago and they have still not had an election. As a result, they have asked us to organize a multitude of meetings and events to help create some order. The townspeople lack confidence and fear responsibility, and so we have consistently tried to reinforce how able they are and how independent they can be.
It will be very difficult to transition from a world of simplicity and creativity to one of dependence and excess back in the U.S.
I have been exposed to the most genuine and hard-working people and I will forever be indebted to them for the insight and perspective that they have shared with me.