By Gabriella Romero
Although not fully finished with the fellowship, I can feel the effect that Ecuador has had on my mental framework and cultural lens. I analyze and approach challenges differently, in a more calculated and empathetic way. My parents, when they visited for the Christmas holiday, commented on my tranquil and easy-going state.
I have developed patience, since the timeline here in Estero de Plátano is very “ya mismo” (we will get to it eventually). There are many days where we must find our own productivity — these open, literally rainy, days give fruition to a lot of creative thinking and unexpectedly useful ideas.
The “ya mismo” attitude of Estero also makes one open to all possible outcomes when approaching a situation. Samantha and I have consistently joked about how our activities in Ecuador almost never go as planned. We have learned to roll with the punches here, which has bred an extra preparedness and a consistent openness to the unknown.
Our biggest and most unexpected surprise of the trip was the excitement felt by the community when we suggested creating a park for the town. We had volunteer help from town — mostly our ragtag group of 20-something-year-old friends.
In the beginning, motivation from the men was difficult, but they have completely taken in the project as their own. They see this park as their work and their own contribution to the development of Estero. For me, seeing that passion from the community was my biggest highlight thus far.
The Minerva Fellows have a mantra that Hal Fried reads to us at every meeting. It’s a little blurb from a philosopher, Lao Tzu: “Go to the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Love them. Start with what they know. Build with what they have. But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say, ‘We have done this ourselves.’”
I have realized that we are living this mantra. We have instilled a visible passion into the people of the town. They are literally building every inch of the park. Each bit is made by hand, with care, from a member of the Estero community. Samantha and I have purely given the ignition and the idea, but they have done the work themselves.
I feel as if I have been describing a specific project with a lot of passion, but we have done so much more here than the park project.
Tangibly, we are helping our 10 scholarship students with homework, improving their grades and teaching classes on exercise and sexual health. Intangibly, we are encouraging young high schoolers to attend university, and are giving alternative, fun events to youths on weekends. I feel as if our impact goes a lot beyond the tangible things we will leave behind.
I surprise myself sometimes with how immersed I am in the day-to-day doings of Estero de Plátano. Not flushing the toilet doesn’t bother me anymore and the lack of piped water has become regular. It is only when I am put in situations to reflect, such as this narrative, that I realize the extreme difference of my life here and my life in the United States. I will be honest, I would stay another year or three in Estero.
Unfortunately, Hal and Dean McEvoy will be expecting my arrival in mid-April. Facing the reality of my eventual exit from Estero is a hard candy to swallow.
It is only when I am put in situations to reflect, such as this narrative, that I realize the extreme difference of my life here and my life in the United States.