The translators behind the Tandana blog

There is a special network behind each story that is published on this blog. Since each blog is published in English, French, and Spanish, every story needs to be translated from its original language into the other languages. To do that, The Tandana Foundation is thankful for the help of many dedicated individuals from around the world who volunteer their time and skills in translation. Continue reading “The translators behind the Tandana blog”

A reminder that our power as humans lies in our relationships


It’s no secret that the life of a college student is hectic. This year, especially, I have become caught up in the hamster wheel of success and looking towards what is next. It seems like there are always essay deadlines and group project meetings. My Google calendar is filled with notifications and obligations. I have found myself asking, does my full schedule reflect how full my life is? Continue reading “A reminder that our power as humans lies in our relationships”

A look at the multiple phases of the community projects volunteers work on

The highlight of any Tandana volunteer venture is the community project. This is a project proposed by community members and then paired with an upcoming volunteer group that will best be able to contribute. As a Program Coordinator for The Tandana Foundation, it is one of my responsibilities to facilitate and organize the logistics of working on a project with community members and volunteers. We like to be upfront about what the expectations are for what a group can realistically accomplish during their stay. Continue reading “A look at the multiple phases of the community projects volunteers work on”

Ecuador experience an honor for volunteer gardeners

Earlier this year, The Tandana Foundation hosted a group of members from the Ohio Master Gardener Volunteers program. Pam Bennett, the Ohio State Master Gardener Program Director, wrote about about her experience on the trip in the Dayton Daily News. Her article is below. Continue reading “Ecuador experience an honor for volunteer gardeners”

The value of others’ different experiences, appreciating life outside our own city bubble

I had the opportunity to experience a trip facilitated by The Tandana Foundation to the community of Gualapuro, Ecuador, for my first spring break of college as part of the Northeastern University Alliance for Civically Engaged Students (ACES). I was stoked to experience a new culture and meet new people, but in preparing for traveling something continued to bother me. Continue reading “The value of others’ different experiences, appreciating life outside our own city bubble”

A creative chronicle of a volunteer’s trip to Ecuador

During a Tandana Foundation volunteer trip with the Ohio Masters Gardener group last year, Ed Gasbarre kept a journal chronicling what he did each day. From helping out on a farm to visiting with school children, and sampling the local cuisine, Ed creatively documented each experience with photos and drawings alongside his written description. Read excerpts from his journal below. Continue reading “A creative chronicle of a volunteer’s trip to Ecuador”

Lindsey Wilson College scholars share their service trip to Ecuador with Tandana via social media

Eleven students and two leaders from Lindsey Wilson College’s Bonner Scholar program recently traveled to Ecuador on a cultural learning and service trip organized by The Tandana Foundation. While living, working, and exploring the rural highland region, the hard-working group posted frequent updates on what they did each day onto their social media accounts. Below are the posts they shared with their followers. Continue reading “Lindsey Wilson College scholars share their service trip to Ecuador with Tandana via social media”

Forming bonds of friendship while working, playing together in Motilón Chupa

A group a students from ARCC, an organization that designs and operates programs exclusively for students, recently participated in a cultural learning and service trip with The Tandana Foundation in Motilón Chupa, Ecuador. During the week-long trip, the students were engaged with local community members through living, working, and playing alongside them via such activities as building a water tank, preparing pizza, and visiting with school children. As the group wrote in the following blog post, first posted on ARCC’s website, this engagement led to the creation of lasting bonds between themselves and the community members. Continue reading “Forming bonds of friendship while working, playing together in Motilón Chupa”

Making colada morada with my family!

Traditional food and drink are important aspects of a community’s culture. When volunteers travel to Ecuador and Mali with The Tandana Foundation, they are immersed in the local cultures of the communities they stay in, and often have the opportunity to not only sample the local cuisine, but also learn how to make it. In the following, Sarah Rothschild, Tandana’s Program Leader Fellow in Ecuador, shares the history and recipe behind a special holiday treat, called colada morada, prepared by her host mother, Mercedes Perugachi.
Continue reading “Making colada morada with my family!”

‘One of the best trips I’ve ever had’

A student group from Bellbrook High School in Bellbrook, Ohio, traveled to Ecuador for a volunteer trip organized by The Tandana Foundation earlier this summer. During the trip, the students were able to participate in many cultural learning opportunities, including those based in indigenous Kichwa traditions and clothing, along with fun excursions to natural wonders around the highland region. In addition, they completed work on a service project at a local school in Tangali, where they also played in friendly soccer matches with local students. Below, one Bellbrook student, Hanna Bridges, reflects upon her time in Ecuador and why she hopes to return one day. Continue reading “‘One of the best trips I’ve ever had’”

Looking at life in a new way

Thirteen students, including two team leaders, and a university representative from Northeastern University joined the Tandana Foundation in highland Ecuador for a week-long service project earlier this year. To earn a spot on the trip, the NU students, who were all first-year students involved in a year-long service project in Boston, had to complete a competitive application process. While in Ecuador with Tandana, the passionate student group worked with community members to dig out a new water catchment system. The trip was highly successful, as much progress was made on the water system, but also on the relationships built between the NU group and  local residents. Below, one student, Emily Laliberty, reflects on how the trip impacted her after returning to daily life in the United States. Continue reading “Looking at life in a new way”

‘We will forever remember you, Agualongo!’


Sixteen teenage girls from the Traveling School (TTS) recently participated in a cultural learning experience in highland Ecuador, put on by the Tandana Foundation. During their weeklong stay at the end of February, the group of high school students lived and volunteered in the community Agualongo and continued their studies as part of a semester of travel to Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. Continue reading “‘We will forever remember you, Agualongo!’”

It’s all about the relationships

Volunteer trips can take many forms. Sometimes volunteers make lasting connections with local people, and other times they leave without building a lasting relationship. As Karen Graves explains below, the volunteer trips organized by the Tandana Foundation fall into the first category.  In the following blog, Graves shares her experience volunteering in Ecuador with Tandana, where she developed many friendships working alongside community members, as part of the Ohio Master Gardener trip this year. 

Continue reading “It’s all about the relationships”

A journey of health care and fun in the mountains of Ecuador

The Tandana Foundation has a health care program called the Healthcare Volunteer Venture (HCVV)- a program in which the foundation brings  groups of volunteers (both skilled and unskilled in the medical field) from the United States and Canada to provide a phenomenal mobile clinic in some of the indigenous communities of Highland Ecuador. The program happens twice a year, and the foundation held its 23rd and 24th mobile health care clinics in April and September of 2018.

Continue reading “A journey of health care and fun in the mountains of Ecuador”

A health care volunteer’s experience, told in poetic verse

Visiting the picturesque highlands of Ecuador enriched by the local culture, and inspired by living and working with community members is sure to cultivate creativity. Such was the case for a participant of a recent Health Care Volunteer Venture trip organized by the Tandana Foundation. While sharing her medical skills as part of a team providing medical care to local residents, Dr. Swati Biswas crafted a poem about her experience as a HCVV volunteer, which she presented to the group on the last day of the trip. In the beautiful lines of poetic verse below, Swati creates a unique picture of life in Ecuador, as she reflects on all that she has seen and done, and the people she met along the way. Continue reading “A health care volunteer’s experience, told in poetic verse”

Making my own story in Otavalo

Participating in volunteer trips to different countries enables live encounters with diverse cultures and communities. During one of the Tandana Foundation’s recent Health Care Volunteer Ventures trips, a young participant learned first hand how these personal experiences can broaden a person’s understanding of the world beyond what they may be used to. She shares her unique story of volunteering in Otavalo, Ecuador, in the following blog post. Continue reading “Making my own story in Otavalo”

Tandana is unity

The Tandana Foundation is a network of diverse people and communities across the world. It is the strength of this network working together that allows Tandana and its partners to achieve community goals, while fostering caring intercultural relationships based on mutual respect and responsibility. On the last day of a recent Gardening Volunteer Venture trip to Padre Chupa, Ecuador, Teresa Marrinan reflected upon her understanding of who Tandana is. In the following blog post, Teresa describes all the people whom she encountered and learned from as a gardening volunteer with Tandana, including its founder Anna Taft, and how she now feels forever a part of this extended network and Tandana itself. Continue reading “Tandana is unity”

Kindness and generosity in Ecuador

The following post was written by Chloe Willeford, a high school student who recently returned from a volunteer trip with the Tandana Foundation in Ecuador. 

One month ago, my group of eight other students, three leaders, and I touched down in Quito, Ecuador, to begin a three-week service trip helping Agualongo de Quichinche, a community outside of Otavalo. Little did I know that the trip would teach me and help me grow just as much, if not more, as it helped Agualongo.

Continue reading “Kindness and generosity in Ecuador”

Language barriers and Tandana

My name is Joseph White and I’m a student going into my fourth year at the University of Cincinnati. I’m majoring in Psychology and minoring in Africana Studies and Sociology. I’m the first in my family to attend college, so a lot of my time at the university has been spent building a network of people that are already doing the things that I want to do. My success begins on a small scale. A college education is not the standard in my family. Continue reading “Language barriers and Tandana”

Learning while working alongside nature’s caretaker

Matias on the left and Hope on the right.

Many of the Tandana Foundation volunteers, who have come to Ecuador on Gardening Volunteer Ventures since 2013 as well as other programs, have worked alongside Matias Perugachi and learned how to grow plants, raise crops and nurture trees in our joint efforts to make the area more productive and sustainable. We have planted trees on hillsides to break the wind and along community streets to add greenery and purify the air. We have planted gardens at the community’s health center and schools to improve nutrition, and we have worked in the fields to plant and tend crops to provide food. Continue reading “Learning while working alongside nature’s caretaker”

Motilón Chupa: a diverse community based on collaboration

Members of the Tandana Foundation, along with volunteers from the Ohio Master Gardener program and from several U.S. universities have recently traveled to Motilón Chupa, Ecuador, to collaborate with community members on several projects. These projects included installing a water tank to improve the community’s irrigation system and planting a garden near the school. The following is a story written by Motilón Chupa’s president about the history of the community, its diverse people, and how Tandana’s staff and volunteer support helps them achieve the residents’ long-term goals. Continue reading “Motilón Chupa: a diverse community based on collaboration”

Planting seeds, growing friendships

You won’t find Motilón Chupa on Google Maps. This indigenous Kichwa community high in the Andes in the far reaches of Imbabura Province of Ecuador is literally and figuratively at the end of the road. The community is a tight-knit group of people, living in isolated small houses on steep hillsides with no public buildings other than the elementary school. Continue reading “Planting seeds, growing friendships”

Becoming family in Ecuador

I quickly grew attached to my host family while living in Ecuador as a volunteer for the Tandana Foundation. My host sister, who is eight years old, was a very easy first connection to make. She loves to play games and is extremely bright, and within a few hours of my arrival we were already “muy amigas.” Continue reading “Becoming family in Ecuador”

Supporting innovative education at Saminay school

Saminay is a high school that is located approximately 15 miles from Otavalo, in the community of Inguincho. The surrounding mountains allow a beautiful and unique view, which provides the surrounding area with peace and tranquility in the midst of nature. Continue reading “Supporting innovative education at Saminay school”

Inauguration of the Multipurpose Building in Guachinguero

the multipurpose building in Guachinguero

Compilado por Margarita Fuerez

La parroquia rural San José de Quichinche es la más grande del cantón Otavalo, tanto por el número de comunidades que tiene como por ser la Parroquia con más extensión de territorio por lo cual las comunidades se encuentran muy dispersas. Continue reading “Inauguration of the Multipurpose Building in Guachinguero”

A Doctor Learns From Her Patients on a Health Care Volunteer Vacation

Kristin types notes in her patients’ medical records

By Kristin Linzmeyer

As a medical subspecialist here in the U.S., I was not convinced I would have anything to offer patients arriving at the clinics in the communities outside of Otavalo. I felt a little like an imposter at first, wanting to help but not really understanding what it is that they needed. I ended up learning more from my patients than they learned from me. Continue reading “A Doctor Learns From Her Patients on a Health Care Volunteer Vacation”

Things That Happen in the Night – An Anecdote From Ecuador

NateBy Nate Cordick

One night, I was walking to the bathroom from the main house when I heard a strange noise. It sounded like an animal was moving through a bush, but it sounded too big to be one of the family dogs. I walked around to the back of the bathroom and almost jumped when I saw what was staring back at me; a pig. Continue reading “Things That Happen in the Night – An Anecdote From Ecuador”

Moving Mountains– Literally

cancha REACH playingBy Shannon Cantor

I recommend that you travel to the highlands of Ecuador, to the small city of Otavalo. From the terminal—its own chaos of moving people, cars, and shouts—take an old, blue bus parked in the third row from the right-hand side, with a sign in the window marked “Quichinche.” Get off after about 25 minutes, when you reach the last stop. Walk half an hour, straight up hill, through cow fields and a eucalyptus forest. Only then will you find yourself in the community of Agualongo de Quichinche. Continue reading “Moving Mountains– Literally”

Parents and Volunteers Build a Wall to Protect Bilingual School

Tandana estudiantes voluntarios ayudando a terminar la pared

Por Rosa Saravino

Mi nombre es Rosa Saravino soy Directora de la Escuela Intercultural Bilingüe “Ati Pillahuasu,” que pertenece a la comunidad de Panecillo. Yo no soy de esta comunidad pero trabajo más de 30 años en este lugar y conozco a la mayoría de los padres de familia y ellos a mi. Esta escuelita empezó con dos profesores en el año de 1980 más o menos y con una cantidad de 15 estudiantes aproximadamente, estas clases para los primeros estudiantes de la comunidad funcionaba en una casa comunal muy antiguo, en un solo aula, con sus mesas y sillas improvisadas, conforme aumentaron mas estudiantes, la comunidad ha logrado conseguir una casa con dos aulas, después una casa más, así poco a poco la escuela se ha construido con ayudas por parte del gobierno, de otros fundaciones y organizaciones. Continue reading “Parents and Volunteers Build a Wall to Protect Bilingual School”

The Panecillo Community Center Secured with a Wall and Gate

La casa comunal

Por Lidia Alba

Soy Lidia Alba actual presidenta de la Comunidad de Panecillo. La Parroquia Rural “San Jose de Quichinche” es la mas grande del Cantón Otavalo, perteneciente a la Provincia de Imbabura, Ecuador. Esta ubicada a 15 minutos de la cuidad de Otavalo en el sector occidental, la cual esta conformada por 22 comunidades y estas se encuentran alejadas del centro de la parroquia. Continue reading “The Panecillo Community Center Secured with a Wall and Gate”

Experience in Ecuador Solidifies a Participant’s Desire to Volunteer

Don (right) with another volunteer in Ecuador

By Don Gustafson

My story actually begins in the spring of 2016 when my wife Mindy returned from her first trip to Ecuador as a volunteer for Tandana’s Health Care Volunteer Vacation. It was all she could talk about for weeks (months) to come. She was so excited about her experience that she immediately committed to continue her support of The Tandana Foundation with donations of supplies and future volunteer trips. Continue reading “Experience in Ecuador Solidifies a Participant’s Desire to Volunteer”

Warmth, Energy, and Good Will Stand Out

Christine with a new friend in Ecuador

by Christine Dennison.

As I reflect on my recent experience on a Health Care Volunteer vacation in Ecuador with The Tandana Foundation, my thoughts are settling around three themes. Continue reading “Warmth, Energy, and Good Will Stand Out”

A George Washington University Volunteer Shares a Philosophical View of His Time in Ecuador

Lucas (in white giving peace sign) with children from Guachinguero and other volunteers

By Lucas Crampton

Look at me.  Take a look at yourself.  Okay, now look around.  You are in one of the most scenic places on Earth, surrounded by the warmest people you have met.  Is this service or is it vacation?  Is this doing good?  Maybe, you think, this is not what you set out for.  Did you descend from the sky with all the grandeur and none of the benevolence of an angel?  Did your touchdown fall into the centuries-old pattern of clash and exploitation?  How much of this is necessary and how much is contrived? Continue reading “A George Washington University Volunteer Shares a Philosophical View of His Time in Ecuador”

Health Care Volunteer Vacation in Ecuador Opens A Volunteer’s Eyes

Rebecca (far left) working as a medical scribe for a doctor during the Health Care Volunteer Vacation

By Rebecca Lewinson

When I left Canada one week ago to work with The Tandana Foundation, I had no idea what to expect. I had different visions of what Ecuador would be like, and what the communities would be like, but nothing prepared me for the amount of learning, culture, and compassion that I would come to realize within the next week. Continue reading “Health Care Volunteer Vacation in Ecuador Opens A Volunteer’s Eyes”

All You Need is Love

Kaitlyn and her host sister Maya
Kaitlyn and her host sister Maya

By Kaitlyn Paulsen

On my first day in my homestay, I cried a lot. When I walked into the community center in Tangali, I had a slip of paper with my host mother’s name on it. I sat down in a chartreuse over-sized chair, my teal North Face and Nike shoes feeling tremendously out of place in this small community. I stood up when it was my turn to introduce myself, blankly staring at the room of people in front of me who didn’t speak my language. When my assigned host family was not there, and I had to be assigned a new one, I started to cry. I was afraid. I was afraid of spending a month in a new country, afraid of eating strange food, and afraid of not knowing who to talk to. I had no reason to be afraid.

But on the first night, as I threw up at my bedside, I was definitely still afraid. The house smelled different than mine. The roosters were loud all night long, and I was cold. I was afraid of bug bites, and afraid of bucket showers. When I woke up in the morning, I walked over to the breakfast table, and sat in a small chair. I felt awkwardly large, taller than everyone else in my family. My mom put a plate of rice and a fried egg in front of me. I thanked her before eating, and told her that it was good as I was eating it. I felt like I might throw up again, but not because of the food. As I hiked up the hill later that morning at 10,000 feet, the only thing that I could think of was how much I didn’t want to be there. I could hardly breathe, I felt nauseous, I was not showered, and I was tired, and hungry.

At home, I’m the youngest sibling; I only have one older sister. With my family in Ecuador, and that’s what they were and still are to me, family, I have three siblings. My younger sister, Maya, was the cutest five year old I had ever laid eyes on. When I came home that first day, she ran into my arms. I scooped her up as she said “hermana!” (sister) she spoke so fast I could only catch every couple words. Her pink rubber boots hugged my waist, as she buried her face into my hair. That night I spent hours arranging bottle caps with her. I will never forget the way she would look up into my eyes. In her mind, I was really her second older sister. After that first day, my host sister and I were practically inseparable. When we went to paint, I would take her with me. She would sit on the curb and watch, or sit on my shoulders and paint above my head. I took her to summer camp, and to school, and to graduation. She would braid my hair, and sit by me at the table. She would always hold my hand when we went for hikes, and sing songs with me. She became my little sister.

One day, the first day of camp, I walked up the hill to the community center, holding hands tightly with my little sister. She playfully skipped up the hill, while I, panting, could hardly make it. When we got to the top, she ran to her friends, and I began to set up the camp for the day. We taught three different types of classes: English, Science, and Sports. For English, we drew family trees, and played duck, duck, goose. We danced, and sang, and exhausted ourselves every single day. For science, we exploded volcanoes, and in Sports we taught “American baseball.”

Kaitlyn in Tangali
Kaitlyn in Tangali

One day after camp, my peers and I stayed to have a discussion. My sister was sitting in my lap, boots dangling off her feet. I wrapped my arms around her, and she sat there with me through the ninety minute discussion. By the end, she was asleep, and it was time for me to walk back home. I didn’t wake her. I picked her up and carried her fifteen minutes down the hill. By the time I got to the door, she had woken up. I was excited for her smile of gratitude, or a kiss on the cheek. “Mi Zapato!” (my shoe) she exclaimed. Her rubber boot had fallen off at the top of the hill. I hiked back up the hill at dusk, and brought it back. And as I walked back home, something I rarely find myself doing back in the States, I stopped to look at the view. The sun was setting, and the volcano Imbabura was casting a marvelous shadow. The moment was beautiful. This place was beautiful. This life is beautiful.

On my final days in Ecuador, there was a lot to do. I had to pack, and write my speech for the going-away ceremony. I had to put together my gifts for my host family, and I was writing my host family a thank you letter. I was also writing the arrangement for our going away song. It was a busy couple of days. And more than anything, I just wanted to lay on the mattress with my sister, playing dog and cat, or lion and mouse. I wanted to tickle her, and watch her laugh. I wanted to not miss a single thing in my sister’s life. But the last day had come, and I had to stand up and give my speech. I didn’t cry while I was giving it, but as I watched it being translated, and realized I could understand the Spanish, I started to cry. I walked back to my seat, and my host sister run over to me with a napkin and planted a kiss right on my cheek. I hugged her tight. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t have the words. “Te amo” (I love you) I whispered. “To tambien,” (me too) she said, sobbing.

I’ve never cried so much in my life. On the first day in Tangali, I cried out of fear. And on the last day, as I hugged my mom, and my brothers and sisters goodbye, I cried because I was afraid I would never see these wonderful people again. They showed me you don’t have to have much to love. Love comes without a price. And here in the States, we do so much to dispel that. Wealth over love, power over giving, selfishness over compassion. A family of seven in a yellow house in Tangali, 6,000 miles from my home taught me otherwise. Sometimes, all you need is love.


Pintura de Kaitlyn con Maya
Kaitlyn con Maya, pintando la casa comunal

Por Kaitlyn Paulsen

En mi primer día con la familia anfitriona, lloré mucho. Cuando entré al centro de la comunidad de Tangali, tenía una tira de papel con el nombre mi madre de acogida. Me senté en una silla grande color chartreuse, mis zapatos Nike y mi anorak North Face verde azulado sintiéndose totalmente fuera de lugar en esta pequeña comunidad. Me levanté cuando llegó el turno de presentarme, mirando ausentemente a la habitación llena de gente que no hablaba mi idioma. Cuando mi familia anfitriona asignada no se encontró allí, me tuvieron que asignar una nueva, empecé a llorar. Tenía miedo. Tenía miedo de pasar un mes en un nuevo país, miedo de comer comida extraña, y miedo de no saber con quien hablar. Pero no tenía ninguna razón de sentirme así.

Pero en la primera noche, mientras vomitaba al lado de mi cama, definitivamente continuaba asustada. La casa olía diferente que la mía. Los gallos eran ruidosos toda la noche, y tenía frío. Tenía miedo de picaduras de insectos, y de duchas con calderos de agua. Cuando me desperté por la mañana, caminé hasta la mesa de desayuno y me senté en una pequeña silla. Mi madre me puso un plato de arroz y un huevo frito en frente de mi. Le di las gracias antes de comer, y le dije que todo estaba muy bueno. Mientras subía por la colina esa misma mañana a 10,000 pies, lo único en lo que podía pensar era lo poco que quería estar ahí. Casi no podía respirar, me sentía con nauseas, sin ducharme y estaba cansada y hambrienta.

En casa, soy la hija más pequeña. Solo tengo una hermana mayor. Pero con mi familia de Ecuador, y eso es lo que eran para mi y siguen siendo, una familia, tenía tres hermanos. Mi hermana pequeña, Maya, era la niña de cinco años más adorables que jamás he visto. Cuando llegué a casa ese primer día, corrió a mis brazos. La alcé en brazos mientras me dijo: “¡hermana!”. Hablaba tan rápido que solo puede entender unas pocas palabras. Sus botas rosas de goma abrazaban mi cintura, con su rostro escondido en mi pelo. Esa noche, pasamos horas ordenando tapones de botellas. Nunca olvidaré la manera en la que me miraba a los ojos. En su mente, yo era de verdad su segunda hermana mayor. Después de ese primer día, mi hermana de acogida y yo fuimos prácticamente inseparables. Cuando íbamos a pintar, la llevaba conmigo. Se sentaba en el bordillo y miraba, o en de mis hombros y pintaba por encima de mi cabeza. La llevé al campamento de verano, a la escuela y a la graduación. Solía trenzarme el pelo, y sentarse a mi lado en la mesa. Siempre me cogía de la mano cuando íbamos de paseo, y cantaba canciones conmigo. Se convirtió en mi hermana pequeña.

Un día, en el primer día del campamento, subí la colina hasta el centro de la comunidad, cogida firmemente de la mano con mi hermana pequeña. Ella brincaba ágilmente en la subida, mientras que yo, sin aliento, no podía casi subir. Cuando llegamos a la cima, corrió hacia sus amigos, y yo empecé a organizar ese día en el campamento. Enseñábamos tres tipos de clases diferentes: inglés, ciencias y deporte. Para inglés, dibujamos árboles genealógicos y jugamos al pilla-pilla. Bailábamos, y cantábamos, y nos agotábamos cada día. Para ciencias, hicimos explorar volcanes, y para deporte, les enseñamos el béisbol americano.

Un día después de las actividades, mis compañeros y yo nos quedamos para tener un pequeño debate. Mi hermana estaba sentada en mi regazo, con las botas deslizándose de sus pies. Rodeé mis brazos a su alrededor, y permaneció allí sentada durante los noventa minutos de discusión. Al final, estaba dormida, y ya era hora de volver a casa. No la desperté. La cogí y la llevé durante los quince minutos de bajada de la colina. Para cuando llegamos a casa, ya se había despertado. Yo estaba entusiasmada por su sonrisa de gratitud, o un beso en la mejilla. “¡Mi zapato!”, exclamó. Su bota de goma se había caído en la cima de la colina. Volví a subir la montaña al atardecer y lo traje. Mientras caminaba de vuelta, me encontré haciendo algo que raramente hago en EEUU, me paré a mirar la vista. El sol se estaba poniendo, y el volcán Imbaburra proyectaba una sombra maravillosa. El momento era hermoso. Este sitio era hermoso. Esta vida era hermosa.

En mis últimos días en Ecuador, hubo mucho que hacer. Tenía que hacer la maleta, escribir mi discurso para la ceremonia de despedida. Tuve que reunir todos los regalos para mi familia anfitriona, y les escribí una carta de agradecimiento. También estaba escribiendo los arreglos musicales para la canción de despedida. Fueron unos días bastante ajetreados. Y más que nada, quería tumbarme en el colchón con mi hermana, jugar a perros y gatos, o leones y ratones. Quería hacerle cosquillas, y verla reírse. No quería perderme ni una sola cosa de la vida de mi hermana. Pero el último día llegó, y me tuve que levantar y dar el discurso. No lloré mientras lo di, pero mientras vi como lo traducían y me di cuenta de que podía entender el español, comencé a hacerlo. Volví a mi sitio, y mi hermanita corrió hacia mi con una servilleta y me dio un beso en la mejilla. La abracé estrechamente. No sabía que decir. No encontraba las palabras. “Te amo”, susurré. “Yo también”, dijo ella sollozando.

Nunca he llorado tanto en mi vida. En el primer día en Tangali, lloré de miedo. Y en el último, mientras abrazaba a mi madre, mis hermanos y mis hermanas, lloré porque tenía miedo de no volver a ver a estas magníficas personas. Ellos me enseñaron  que no tienes que poseer mucho para amar. El amor no tiene precio. Y aquí en EEUU, disipamos esa idea con nuestras acciones. Riqueza por encima del amor, el poder mejor que el dar y el egoísmo sobre la compasión. Una familia de siete en una casa amarilla de Tangali, 6,000 millas de mi casa me mostró lo contrario. Algunas veces, todo lo que necesitas es amor.

Kaitlyn et Maya avec un autre bénévole de Tandana
Kaitlyn et Maya avec un autre bénévole de Tandana

Par Kaitlyn Paulsen

Sur mon premier jour logée avec ma famille d’acceuil, j’ai pleurée beaucoup. Quand j’ai marchée dans le centre communautaire à Tangali, j’ai eu un morceau de papier avec le nom de m’hotesse-mère. Je me suis assise une surdimensionnée chaise chartreuse, mon North Face sarcelle et des chaussures de Nike se a sentirent déplacés dans cette petite communauté. Je me suis levée quand c’etait mon tour de me présenter, regardée fixement à les peuples devant moi qui ne parlaient pas ma langue. Quand ma famille d’accueil assignée n’était pas présent, et j’ai dû être assignée a une autre famille, j’ai commencée a pleurer. J’avais peur. J’avais peur d’habiter un mois dans un pays nouveau, manger la nourriture étrange et ne pas connaître à qui parler. Je n’avais pas raison pour avoir peur.

Mais sur la première nuit, comme j’ai vomi à mon chevet, j’ai eu certainement toujours peur. La maison a senti different. Les coqs étaient forts toute la nuit, et j’avais froide. J’avais peur des piqûres d’insectes et des douches par seau. Quand je me suis réveillée, j’ai marchée à la table et j’étais assise dans une petite chaise. Je me suis senti maladroitement grande, plus grande que tous les autres dans ma famille. Ma mère a mis une assiette du riz et un oeuf frit devant moi. Je l’ai remerciée avant de manger et lui ai dit qu’elle était bonne comme je la mangeais. Je me sentais comme j’allais vomir encore, mais pas a cause de la nourriture. Comme j’ai marchée la colline ce matin à dix mille mètres, la seule chose à laquelle je pourrais penser était combien je ne voulais pas être là. Je pourrais à peine respirer, je me suis senti nauséabond, je n’ai pas été douchée et j’ai été fatiguée et j’avais faim.

À la maison chez mois, je suis l’enfante plus petite. J’ai seulement une grande soeur. Mais avec ma famille à l’Équateur, parce que c’est ce qu’ils sont à moi, ma famille, j’avais trois freres et soeurs. Ma petite soeur, Maya, était la personne de cinq ans la plus mignonne que j’avais jamais regardée. Quand je suis venue à la maison le premier jour, elle s’est courue à mes bras. Je l’ai prise comme elle a dit “hermana” (sœur), elle a dit très vite que je pourrais comprendre seulement quelques mots.  Ses bottes en caoutchouc roses ont serrés ma taille, comme elle a enterrée son visage dans mes cheveux. Cette nuit j’ai passée des heures en arrangant des capsules avec elle. Je n’oublierai jamais comment elle chercherait dans mes yeux. Dans son avis, j’étais vraiment sa deuxième grande soeur. Après ce premier jour, ma soeur d’accueil et moi étions pratiquement inséparables. Quand nous sommes allées peindre, je la prendrais avec moi. Elle serait assise sur le frein et observerait, ou sera assise sur mes épaules et peindra au-dessus de ma tête. Je l’ai prise à la colonie de vacances et à l’école et à la graduation. Elle la tresse mes cheveux et être assis à côté de moi à la table. Elle tiendrait toujours ma main quand nous sommes allés pour des randonnée et chanter des chansons avec moi. Elle est devenue ma petite soeur.

Un jour, le premier jour de camp, je suis montée la colline au centre communautaire , tenant la main fermement de ma petite soeur. Elle a par espièglerie sautée en haut la colline, tandis, haletant j’ai pourrai à peine fait la randonnée. Quand nous sommes arrivées au sommet, elle a courue à ses amis et j’ai commencée à configurer le camp pour le jour. Nous avons enseignés trois sujets : l’anglais, la science et le sport. Pour l’anglais, nous avons dessinés des arbres généalogiques et avons joués les jeus. Nous avons dansés et avons chantés et nous sommes épuisés chaque jour. Pour la science, nous avons fait éclater des volcans et au sport nous avons enseignés “le base-ball américain.”

Un jour après le camp, mes collègues  et moi sommes restés pour avoir une discussion. Ma soeur était assise dans mes genoux, ses bottes pendants de ses pieds. J l’ai  enveloppée et elle a été assise là avec moi pour la quatre-vingt-dix discussion infime. À la fin, elle était endormie et c’était le temps pour moi de retourner à la maison. Je ne l’ai pas réveillée. Je l’ai prise et ai portée ses quinze minutes en bas la colline. Par le temps que je suis arrivée à la porte, elle s’était réveillée. J’ai été enthousiasmé pour son sourire de gratitude, ou un baiser sur la joue “Mi Zapato!” (ma chaussure) elle s’est exclamée. Sa botte en caoutchouc était tombée au sommet de la colline. J’ai monté  la colline à la nuit tombante et l’ai ramené. Et comme je suis retournée à la maison, quelque chose que je me trouve rarement faisant dans les États, j’ai arrêtée pour regarder la vue. Le soleil se couchait et le volcan Imbabura lançait une merveilleuse ombre. Le moment était beau. Cet place était beau. Cette vie est belle.

Mes jours finaux à l’Équateur, il y avait beaucoup à faire. J’ai dû tasser et écrire mon discours pour la cérémonie du départ. J’ai dû assembler mes cadeaux pour ma famille d’accueil et j’écrivais une lettre de merci à ma famille d’accueil. J’écrivais aussi la musique pour notre chanson de départ. C’était des jours tres occupés. Et plus que tout, j’ai voulu poser sur le matelas avec ma soeur, en jouant le chien et le chat, ou le lion et la souris. J’ai voulu la chatouiller et observer son rire. J’ai voulu pas manquer une chose seule dans la vie de ma soeur. Mais le dernier jour était venu et j’ai dû me lever et tenir mon discours. Je n’ai pas pleurée tandis que je le donnais, mais comme je l’ai observée étant traduit et me suis rendue compte que je pourrais comprendre l’espagnol, j’ai commencée à pleurer. Je suis revenue à mon siège et ma soeur d’accueil court avec une serviette et plante un baiser directement sur ma joue. Je l’ai étreinte serrée. Je n’ai pas su quoi dire. Je n’avais pas les mots. “Te amo” (je t’adore) j’ai chuchoté. “Yo tambien,” (moi aussi) elle a dit, le sanglotement.

Je n’ai jamais pleuré tellement dans ma vie. Le premier jour dans Tangali, j’ai pleurée a cause de la peur. Et le dernier jour, comme j’ai étreint ma mère et mes frères et soeurs au revoir, j’ai pleurée parce que j’ai eu peur que je ne verrais jamais ces merveilleux gens encore.  Ils m’ont montré que vous ne devez pas avoir beaucoup pour aimer. L’amour vient sans un prix. Et dans les États, nous faisons tant pour le dissiper. La richesse sur l’amour, le pouvoir sur le don, l’égoïsme sur la compassion. Une famille de sept membres dans une maison jaune dans Tangali, 6,000 miles de chez mois m’ont enseignée autrement. Parfois, tout dont vous avez besoin est l’amour.