To my amazement, this was one of our last days in Ecuador. The week had flown by so fast! We had a super fun day planned and the anticipation was killing us. We were heading to a water park to have fun with our sponsored kids!
Somehow, Compassion had connections with a private yacht club and we were able to rent the park for a few hours. There were several slides, a few pools to swim in, a big water fountain thingy and a basketball hoop. It was a pretty cool place and we were stoked to share this experience with the kiddos.
To be honest with you, our team had no idea how this day would go. In the U.S., a day like this would be fairly normal. We are used to having a variety of fun things to do and having the money to afford it. Our Ecuadorian kids weren’t too familiar with our lifestyle and this day was pretty lavish for them, I’m sure. We weren’t too worried though, God had proven throughout the week that He was handling things just fine.
My family sponsors 2 children (Alan & Nicole), so the plan was for all of us to hang out together. We also had a translator assigned to our little group to help with communication. I was so grateful for that! Edmund was the man!
Overall, the day was fantastic! We had tons of time to just splash, jump, slide, shoot hoops and be kids! I was even able to teach the kids how to float and swim a little….what a cool thing to be a part of! It was great to see their moms contentedly watching us play. I was grateful for their trust.
After the swim time was over, we had lunch and I was able to give the kids some gifts that my family and I had bought for them….basic stuff like backpacks, coloring books, t-shirts, photo albums and some candy. We also purchased some basic gifts for the parents…stuff like bed sheets, work gloves, kitchen utensils, towels, scarves, etc. We were told to buy the necessities…practical stuff that could be used every day.
The kids and parents were very grateful for the gifts and their response was very interesting to me. Although their smiling faces told me “thank you,” their hugs, kisses and overall loving interactions showed me that my presence was even more appreciated. The fact that I was in Ecuador with them seemed far more important and meaningful to them. What a shift from our materialistic, “stuff-based” culture here in the United States!
Unfortunately, the inevitable moment had arrived and it was time to say goodbye to our kids and families. After many hugs, tears and “see you soon’s”, we headed to our bus and the families headed home. Sadly, this would be the last time that we would see them during this trip. What an experience.
As we all took a deep breath and reminisced about the day, all we could do was smile and do our best to take that energy and joy to the next stop of the afternoon…..we were on our way to project 535 to hang out with some more kids and serve them dinner. This project was similar to 534 & 542, but our church was not directly involved with the funding. Our connection is that Abundant Life sponsored some of the kids at the center. I’m thinking about 50 of the 200 (give or take) kids were sponsored by ALC. Pretty cool to see ALC’s influence in so many areas in Ecuador. Makes me proud to be a part of such a cool church.
We were greeted with many hugs, kisses and high-fives. Little smiling faces melted our hearts once again. There’s truly no way to express the joy and pure contentment felt during those times.
After the amazing greeting, the kiddos headed into the kitchen area and had a seat at their tables. It was time to eat some dinner! My team helped out by setting up some tables and chairs, bringing drinks and warm bowls of rice and chicken to each child. Most of them just pounded their food. It was fun to walk around and encourage some of the little ones to eat their dinner…I asked them to flex their muscles and tried to explain in broken Spanish that food made them have big muscles…..they got a chuckle out of it :).
Towards the end of dinner, I noticed some of the older kids pulling out plastic containers….they were keeping their leftovers to bring home to their families. They didn’t want to leave a scrap of food behind. I pictured their families waiting at home with anticipation , hoping for some good grub to eat. I felt so guilty. We waste so much food here in the U.S. and are so incredibly spoiled and entitled….we expect working fridges and full pantries and complain when our french fries aren’t cooked perfectly. Shame on us, shame on me. It was a humbling reminder to be grateful for a full stomach…it’s a luxury that we are so gluttonous and ignorant about as a nation.
After dinner, we helped with the clean up and headed over to the church building for a mini church service. Soon after, we headed out to visit some more of our sponsored kid’s homes. This time, our visits felt a little different. Instead of mainly travelling via bus, we walked to most of the homes. It really allowed us to experience the community and lifestyle on a deeper level….kids played soccer, shoes hung on power lines, dogs sheepishly wandered the streets, dust was on our shoes, kids flew kites, eyes peaked at us through doorways, smoke rose from burn piles, laundry colorfully hung and dried in the sun. Simplicity and raw, hard living was all around us. The reality is that after our visits that day, our air-conditioned bus was waiting for us….the story was different for our friends in this community…the only thing waiting for them was the necessity of grinding through another day.
A certain house visit reminds me of the “grinding” that these families have to go through, just to survive. We entered the house via a dirt path, past a couple of pigs and the banana tree in the “front” yard. The floors consisted of compacted dirt and rocks. The walls consisted of cardboard and bed sheets. They kept the place very clean and the 2 children (one boy and one girl) were beautiful and very well-behaved. We found out that the dad wasn’t around very much. He fished about 25 days out of the month and brought home roughly $150-$200 a month. What a life and what a hero the mom was for basically raising the kids on her own. She looked tired and spent….I don’t blame her one bit. What amazed me is that even through her family’s struggles and lack of resources, she still offered our group some shrimp. What hospitality and generosity! That food is like gold to them and she was willing to share it with us strangers…what a welcomed culture shock….one that I will never forget. I was both blessed and saddened by this visit, but I was confident that God had this family in His hands.
As the day became dusk, it was time to head back to the hotel for some dinner. This day was filled with so many different opportunities to love, to play, to observe and to just be present. The main lesson learned for me was this: OUR PRESENCE AND WILLINGNESS TO LOVE WAS MORE IMPORTANT TO OUR ECUADORIAN FAMILY THAN ANY EXPERIENCE OR GIFT THAT WE COULD GIVE THEM. Stuff is stuff, but memories and relationships last forever.