Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Making A Difference

August 13, 2013
I’ve mentioned before that one of the wonderful things about living here on the coast of Ecuador is the great people we get to meet that travel through this area.

One of them came through a few months ago (Jill Andreychak) from South Jersey.


All pictures and verbiage included with this post are courtesy of Jill, with the exception of the top photo, which was taken of the three of us (and Daisy) by a local friend.


Dear Leigh,
I finally have returned to the US and have been thrust back in to my “American Reality.”  Amazing how much of an impact two weeks away can have on a person!
I am so happy to have met you during my adventures in Ecuador!  I am going to continue to write this email in letter form, but feel free to take any parts and use them for your blog.  I have several stories to share so I will continue to write to you.  As for now, I would like to do a short background on how I discovered my love for the Ruta del Sol and also tell my story of doing the fundraiser for the primary school in Montanita.  
Long story short.  I have a Masters Degree in Communicative Disorders and I am a speech-language pathologist for a public school in Southern New Jersey.  I also have been employed as a flight attendant for US Airways for over 13 years.  This chaotic combination of professions and my love of living with sand in my toes brought me to South America.

Two years ago I was looking for a place to vacation that would provide hot weather and good surfing in February.  I also wanted to take classes and learn Spanish.  While searching the internet for Spanish Language Schools, I discovered the Montanita Spanish School.  Voila! 

In 2012, I attended a week of classes at the Montanita Spanish School.  I quickly fell in love with Montanita and the Spanish School.  I discovered that the students who attended over two weeks of Spanish classes were eligible to participate in volunteer programs aiding local children.

Unfortunately, I am unable to be away from my jobs and my two children for longer than a week at a time.  Volunteering in a local school would not be a possibility for me.  When I returned home to the states, Montanita was firmly planted in my heart but I knew that I could not return for at least a year.  I began looking for any information I could find about this tiny town. 

That is when I stumbled upon your blog.  During the months that I was back in NJ, I researched the communities that surrounded Montanita and tried to learn as much as possible about the coast of Ecuador; its culture and its people.  I used Google to find any tidbit of information that Leigh included in her blog.  Reading about the ex-pats that have transplanted to Olón and the incredible lifestyle that they lead had my wheels turning.  My dream began to blossom...

Discovering Volunteerism

Primary School in Montanita

Years ago, while on an overnight in Madrid, I discovered a charming Peruvian that was living in Spain.  (Yes, the stories you hear of flight attendants are TRUE, lol!)  He was returning to Peru to visit his family and I decided that he would be the perfect tour guide for my first visit to South America.

In October of 2008 I sat on a flight to Lima, Peru.  This little lady from South Jersey had visions of being tied to a tree in the jungle and surrounded by drug lords.  I’m not gonna lie.  I grew up in suburbia, and although I was a flight attendant, I had only travelled to European cities.  I admit, my knowledge of South America was... well... limited. 
I quickly discovered that Peru was an incredibly, beautiful country with delicious food, intriguing culture and fantastic people.  As I was returning to the airport in Lima, I passed a wrought iron fence that surrounded a group of lovely buildings.  I asked the taxi driver if the compound was a college or university.  He told me that it was not a university, but an orphanage.  I was shocked.  Somewhere in my middle-class, Americana brain I knew that orphanages existed, but to actually SEE one was somehow surreal. 

Fast forward to 2012...still having the vision of the Peruvian orphanage firmly imprinted in my memory and having found my new paradise on the Ruta del Sol; things started to blend and swirl around in my mind.   I wanted to do something for the local people in Montanita.  Although my funds were limited, my resources were overflowing! 
I contacted the Montanita Spanish School where I had taken Spanish classes the year before and asked the interns working there to help me make arrangements to make a donation to the primary school in Montanita.  Next, it was party time...or shall I say, fiesta?
I planned a “Not-So-Fancy Cocktail Party” for my friends, family, co-workers and neighbors.  I “charged”  guests $10 per ticket to my party which included some drinks and appetizers.  Several people were not able to attend but generously contributed to my fundraiser. My friends and family were so supportive that many graciously donated much more than the suggested amount of ten dollars.
I was able to purchase a laptop computer, printer, 10 additional ink cartridges and an entire shopping cart full of school supplies, such as, construction paper, writing paper, crayons, markers, dry-erase boards, workbooks, scissors, etc.
Since I was a flight attendant, flying standby to Guayaquil, I was permitted to carry my baggage on board and I didn’t have to worry about excess baggage fees or checking my luggage.  Although dragging the donated items through three airports and into the taxi was a hassle, it was FREE!
On Thursday, February 21, 2013 I presented the donated items to the primary school in Montanita
One of the “locals” from town had mentioned to me that the primary school was a very good school and that maybe I should have made a donation to one of the less fortunate schools in a surrounding community.  Having never seen the inside of the school, I became nervous.  I was thinking that maybe the children here had enough supplies and computers.  I was worried that I would be providing the school with something they really didn’t need.  When I entered the building and was introduced to the director, I quickly discovered that although the students received a good education, they absolutely did not have any computers! 
The primary school in Montanita is a cheerful, bright and charming learning environment but they have an extremely limited amount of school supplies.  As you can see from the expressions on the faces of the children in the picture, a computer was a BIG surprise!

When making a donation to a school in Montanita, a formal letter must be signed by the party donating the item and the party receiving the item.  It was explained to me that the reason for this is not only for tax purposes, but to prove that the items belong to the school and were not stolen property. 

This picture is so special to me.  I was completely overwhelmed by how thankful the children, teachers and director of the school were.  In this photo, the director is thanking me for donating to the school.  I am explaining, through my tears and broken Spanish that the donation is from my family, friends, co-workers and neighbors.  I told Genevieva, the director, that this was all possible because of the support from my family and friends.  My family and friends showed their love and support of me by contributing to something that they know was close to my heart.  This day was made purely from generosity and love.

A special thanks to the interns from the Montanita Spanish School who helped with transporting me and the donations to the school, as well as assisted in making arrangements to meet the director of the school and students. 


From left to right,
Meike, (intern from the Montanita Spanish School)
Jill, Ronny (from the Montanita Spanish School) and  Genevieva, (the director of the Primary School)

I loved meeting the children from the school!  For the remainder of my stay in Montanita they would recognize me in town and I would here them saying, “Senora!  Computadora!”

On a tour with school girls