2017 Ecuador Blog

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Ecuador Group PittServesAlt Break in Quito, Ecuador

Commitment | Exploring Privilege | Pre-Service | Understanding Culture | Forming a Group | Arrival in Quito | Day One | Day Two | Day Three | Day Four | Day Five | Day Six

Welcome to our Alt Break Blog for Quito, Ecuador.

As part of the Year of Diversity, PittServes traveled with 12 students to Ecuador! Students participated in pre-training and service before departing to serve in Ecuador during spring break!  Please see below for information regarding the pre-work and to learn more about our travels and service while abroad! Students will be invited to apply for the 2018 trip soon, please check back to our website or email altbreak@pitt.edu to be placed on the information list.



Day Six

Another full day greeted us in Chilcapamba. With part of our group waking early to assist the Water Man with his 5am hike to the water source, others assisting with the pan (bread) for breakfast, and the town community center announcing tomorrow’s Minga over the loud speakers, we were all up and ready to go early! Today’s service included detailed painting and planting trees. We also had the opportunity to spend more time with community members as we traveled to Cuicocha Lake and had a fiesta going away dinner this evening. Followed by the community’s band and a rap from our very own Christian Thomas! Tomorrow we say goodbye to the community that has welcomed us in and begin our travel home, see below for more reflections from Jahvon.


(The whole team with Fernando and Victor, after planting 20 trees and painting the community wall)

Today was our last day of community service in Ecuador. I still have a little back pain from yesterday’s long day of work but I did not let that stop me today! I had my alarm set for 7:10 AM but I was awaken by a very loud speaker at 6:30 AM playing music followed by an announcement in Spanish. I found out during breakfast that the announcement was broadcasting tomorrow’s minga to the rest of the community. Since coming to Chilcapamba, I have gotten a chance to see how many members of the community came together to help up on the projects we worked on. The minga was called to finish the market that we worked on yesterday. Today we continued by painting flowers on the outer wall (made up of bottles and cements) of the market.

Before lunch, we headed off to another project that contributed to the water system that we got a chance to see on Wednesday. For that project, we planted two different kinds of trees throughout the forest that will prevent the water from drying out. The service in Chilcapamba has shown me the true power of coming together as a community. While serving in Ecuador, I have been continually reminded of ways that I can go back to my own community to facilitate change.

– Jahvon Dockery, Junior


Day Five

Today was our opportunity to support the Chilcapamba community from the wee hours of the morning until late tonight. We been so warmly welcomed from the residents and have had students assist with the preparing of each meal, take the 5am hike to clean the water source, relocate hundreds of brick pavers and paint their brand new market facility. Our service to the community today was to ensure the market is ready for the grand opening on March 21, where members of the community will be able to have goods and foods for sale to other community members and to tourists passing through. See below for Arnab and Ritika’s experience today!








     (Jahvon, Christian, Madeline, Ritika, & Krish painting the new market & the group assembly line moving hundreds of bricks!)

As I awoke today, I was ready for a long and fulfilling day of service. However, I was unaware of how much I would learn about the daily lives of the Chilcapamba community members, and in the process, the difference in our individual realities. For example, the breakfast that I consumed without a second thought was made by community members that woke up far earlier than I normally would. It was then my privilege to be a part of the food preparation process for lunch. Another student and I made the trek to the community’s garden, which was full of rows of various vegetables and herbs. We collected potatoes, which varied in size from grape-sized to fist-sized, yet another unexpected difference from my personal norms. In transit back to the kitchen, we picked up some corn, which we then shucked, and thyme. All of this was before any actual cooking. The community members are very knowledgeable about all the crops they grow, and there is a certain satisfaction to being involved with the entire process of cooking, from picking the ingredients to setting the dinner table.

Of course, we also made great progress on our volunteer project. We were definitely up to the task of continuing the creation of the community center, which was already impressively constructed. It struck me how difficult it would be to organize such a concerted effort at home unless there were explicit incentives. Although our work on the project was not a “minga” in the truest sense, it highlighted the difference in the mindset of our cultures towards the relationship between an individual and his or her community. I look forward to continuing to work with the community for the rest of our time here, and I hope that I can learn to incorporate their community perspective into my personal view.

–Arnab Ray, Sophomore



I woke up this morning, not to the ding! ding! sound of my alarm but the incessant crowing of a rooter. I got out at bed at 6:30 a.m (yes, before my usual 10 a.m wakeup) so I could go make breakfast. Olympia, a local woman from Chilcapamba took us to her house, a short walk from the volunteer house we have been staying. There was a warm fire burning in the house, which was surrounded by a farm (with very cute rabbits and guinea pigs, which are called cuy cuys). We each took a small portion of the dough, rolled it and flattened it to create tortillas. When regaling the story to my mother, she exclaimed that I never cook at home but after this experience, I think I may (no promises though). Cooking with Olympia was a wonderful experience because we all worked together; Olympia would occasionally speak to us in Quichua about the animals or our lives. When we brought back the tortillas and everyone exclaimed about how great they were, I felt a sense of pride and also happiness that I was able to contribute (even in a small way) to the larger community. Coming to Chilcapamba has heightened my sense of community, especially when working together with the community members and hearing them talk about how involved everyone is. I hope everyone can have the opportunity to serve others and realize how we can use traditions and customs from other communities to improve our own!

Ritika Bajpai, Freshman

Day Four

Today was a day filled with travel and cultural immersion. As we start our service in the Chilcapamba community, we had the opportunity to sit down with the Association Presidente, Alfonzo, meet his family, and understand more of the history and culture of our host community. Our immersion allowed us to understand their long struggle to obtain running water and compare our privileges in our daily lives. See below for Kendra and Krishani’s reflections of the day.


(A short break during our 2 hour trip from Quito to Chilcapamba, the views and the bizchocco were wonderful)

Today we left our hostel in Quito and travelled to the Chilcapamba community. Chilcapamba is situated between two inactive volcanoes around 30 minutes outside of Otavalo, a city in northern Ecuador. The community comprises of 60% indigenous people, and 40% mestizos (mixed). The name of the community derives from “Chilca,” a plant native to the area, and “pamba,” meaning land in Quichua which is the indigenous language of the area. Quichua has been formally recognized as the official language by the constitution. The Chilca plant, found all over the land, is used by the community to treat ailments like inflammation, as well as by the shamans for cleansing. In contrast to Western medicine, Chilcapamban treatments utilize the plants and herbs of the land. They see themselves as part of the area, referring to the neighboring volcanos as mother, mama Cotocachi, and father, Taitana Imbaburra.

The culture of the Chilcapamba community is completely different from that of the United States. There is a sense of unity between the people—minga (the days that all members of the community join together to accomplish a goal), the animals, and the land. I am excited to experience more of their culture as we serve the community over the next few days.

–Kendra LaVallee, Senior


As we arrived to Chilcapamba today, we had the opportunity to learn much about the culture and meet some of the members of the community. One subject that is great importance to the community is water. For the past ten years, the community has been fighting for the installation of a water system that will bring water to different communities in the area. Over the past four years, the people of Chilcapamba have been able to start the water project and now around 450 people are able to obtain water.

Today we had the pleasure to meet Francisco, who is the “water man”. He controls the entire water system and oversees the project. He taught us much about how the water gets down to the people and showed us how he took care of the system. It was amazing to step into Francisco shoes. We hiked to the waterfall Yana Yaku, which means Black Water. The water comes down the waterfall and follows the path into the community. It was interesting to hear that the path we took, Francisco takes every morning at 4 and makes sure that the gates are clear so the water can get through. From this experience with Francisco, I realized the care that is given to the water project and it is not only from Francisco but also from the entire community. It was refreshing to see how a whole community joins together as one to complete a project. I look forward to working with the community and learning more about their culture for the rest of our stay.

–Krish Patel, Junior



Day Three

Today was a filled day with service, Spanish lessons, salsa class, and meeting a local coffee producer. We continue to reflect on our roles as international volunteers, how to be of service to agencies, and what role we play when engaging with children for a short amount of time. It is our groups mission to serve ethically while in Ecuador, and we have had the opportunity to discuss frequently amongst ourselves and with our Ecuadorian hosts. See below for Madeline and Christian’s reflections of day three!
Day3 PittServes


Upon arriving to Ecuador I was ecstatic to learn that our quest would lead us to an orphanage located just outside of Quito.  The abundance of personalities and the fearless enthusiasm for adventure offered by children demonstrate an authenticity that is often times condemned in the “adult world.”  However, as we approached a lush green field surrounded by a swing-set, a garden, and vibrant buildings which serve as classrooms, I grew a bit apprehensive.  I did not know how I was going to connect with these children as we came from entirely different languages, continents, and lifestyles. The only means I had to communicate with them was through fragments of broken Spanish. However, only having spent a brief period of two days with the children who live in the orphanage I learned that a meaningfully authentic connection is not solely approached through words.  It is through games of hide-and-seek, exchanging flowers to wear in each other’s hair, intense games of futbol, assisting in opening a snack, offering a hand to hold, and endless smiles and hugs.  As we depart for Otavalo tomorrow morning, I will reflect and continue to foster the multi-faceted methods of communication shown to me by my new friends.—Madeline Frankel, First Year

After our two hour Spanish lessons in the afternoon, we walked to a dance studio where we had salsa lessons. We started off with simple steps by moving our feet up and down, side to side, then forward and backward. Not going to lie, I forgot how tiring salsa dancing could be because my hips were starting to get tight after all of the dance moves. Once the instructor believed we were professionals in the basics, he added some spinning portions to our dancing. Some of us were having trouble, including myself, on discerning the left from my right with some of the moves but we were progressing pretty well! Once we got the twists and turns down pat, we started to dance with partners. Shout out to my dance partner, Kendra, who helped me with spinning and having fun on the dance floor. Near the end of our lesson, it was beautiful to see every one of my fellow volunteers dancing very well and enjoying their time during our last day in Quito!

-Christian Thomas, Senior





Day Two

Hola! Today our service brought a strong reflection on our communication and language skills and our ability to make a sustainable difference during our time in Ecuador. Working to assist a day care facility outside of Quito, the headmaster informed us that because of time, funding, and resources many projects are not attended to without the additional support of volunteers. Our service today focused on their desire for a mural to be painted, computer classes, and classroom assistance (in addition to a great game of soccer and some Spanish lessons from the second graders!). See below for daily reflections from Rachel.



(Previously a white wall, Pitt students assisted a local artist in completing a full mural at the day care)

This morning we woke up bright and early to travel 40 minutes outside of Quito to volunteer at a daycare. A few of us helped work on a scenic mural on the outside wall of the daycare while the rest of us played with the children. Having 4 years of Spanish language classes in college, my favorite part of the day was getting to talk and play with the children because they really tested my vocabulary. Just as I was excited to speak Spanish, they were eager to know how we said different things located in their classrooms in English. This evening we spent 2 hours brushing up on our Spanish vocab at the BananaSchool so that tomorrow, when we return to the daycare, we can continue to engage with the children. Day two was a blast, and I feel confident that tomorrow will be just as great!

Rachel Lauver, Senior




Day One

Each day two students will post reflections from the daily activities. Today’s debrief included the discussion of service and tourism. As the group reflects on the aspects of voluntourism that can have a negative impact, we feel thankful for the opportunity to learn more about the communities we will serve in this week, to be able to enter with more knowledge from our local hosts. Please read Kasthubha and Mike’s review of day one below.


(Pitt in the center of the world, learning about the history and indigenous communities in Ecuador)

Quito, City of the Sun and capitol city of Ecuador, is a beautiful, sprawling city that sits 9,350 feet above sea level. After starting our first day in Quito with a simple breakfast of scrambled eggs, bread, and coffee, we headed off to the equator, 45 minutes outside the city. Watching the palm trees, homes, and the panoramic views of the city rush by my window, I quickly realized that I didn’t have enough eyes to take in all of the sights. Regardless, I spent the rest of my day wide-eyed and in awe of the natural and architectural beauty surrounding me. We learned about the history of Ecuador, including Simon Bolivar, his visions for a united South America, and the tri-color flag of Ecuador (red for the blood of martyrs, blue for the seas and sky, and yellow for the fertility of the land). I also picked up a few words of Spanish thanks to some very kind strangers. Tomorrow, we start our service at an orphanage outside of Quito, and I am very excited to see what the rest of the week will teach me.

-Kasthubha Yaratha, Junior


This morning we departed early from the hostel for our tour of Quito with our first stop being el mitad del mundo. Our guides Fernando and Maru explained the significance of Quito and Ecuador in South America and the origins of the country. We learned more about the significance of the equator upon our arrival at latitude: 00°00’00”, the center of the world.  Some of us successfully balanced eggs, while other barely managed to balance ourselves on the line dividing the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. Furthermore, we learned about the indigenous culture of Ecuador and its importance to the culture of the nation. We saw shrunken skulls that were over 170 years old and a structure that was from the 18th century used to make chicha(a fermented traditional beverage).

Afterward, we headed south to “old Quito”, the original city. Our first stop was La Basillica. At over 100ft towering over us, this church was impressive to say the least. We traversed the many stairs to the steeple of the church, which offered views of the entire city of Quito nestled between the mountains. We descended back down and paid 25 cents to use the restroom, then headed to Plaza Grande.  There we found hundreds of families and what seemed like all the residents of Quito enjoying the Sunday afternoon. We enjoyed sights of the Presidential Palace and a beautiful church covered from floor to ceiling in gold. From there we traveled back to central Quito to enjoy a delicious lunch at Rincon Ecuadoranio y Chileano.  By this point, our entire group was ready for a siesta. So we returned to the hostel for a quick nap. We visited Supermaxi, a large supermarket, to stock up on chocolate and coffee before heading to a coffee shop called Sweet and Coffee, which was highly recommended by our guide. Here we took a chance to enjoy Ecuadorian coffee and sweets while talking about our day. Tomorrow, we head to a daycare 45 minutes from Quito and we are excited for the next step in our adventure.

-Michael Coutinho, Senior



Arrival in Quito

Qutio Arrival

By: Misti McKeehen, Director of PittServes

After a full day of travel, we have arrived in Ecuador! Nearly a year ago I arrived in Quito, Ecuador for my first experience in South America. Today, I stepped off the plane with 12 undergraduate students who are excited to explore, learn, and serve. The process to get to today was certainly an involved one, as the pre-work to determine a partnership with an organization who focused on ethical and responsible international community service can be a difficult to navigate. It is incredibly important to me that we enter into international service understanding our role and presence as Americans being welcomed in to a new community. It is important to understand the relationships and partnerships with communities and organizations that we will be collaborating with.

As we wake up in Quito on Sunday morning, we will begin to learn more from our Ecuadorian hosts and will begin a seven day journey. Please check in daily to see more about our journey with International Alternative Break!




By: Madeline Frankel, First Year Student

This is more than a week in Ecuador. This is a commitment.” Hearing these words in November, with finals week looming and unchecked boxes on a to-do-list surpassing the number of hours in a day, our program director’s words left me uneasy.  While thrilled to embark on this quest, I struggled with the concept of investing so much time, months in advance of our departure, at home while our impact would be made during a short period abroad.

Following first introductions, we were posed with a task.  “At some point this week, get together with someone in the group who you don’t know much about.”

Easy.  That Tuesday I met Christian and Kausthubha at a teahouse in a nearby neighborhood.   Being the quintessential overworked and under slept college student, admittedly my upcoming world politics exam seemed to be of greater prudence than unwinding with a cup of tea. I went, expecting only a few exchanges regarding our majors and the weather before calling it an evening.

My brief study intermission, soon turned into passing hours, spread out on the sofa of a quaint tea house with a Moroccan ambiance, actively engaged in conversation about everything we were told to never bring up on the first date. However, it was authentic and meaningful.  I left with far more knowledge than the textbook my eyes had been glued to in the previous hours could have granted me. I learned that in all of her endeavors, Kausthubha seeks truth and meaning while Christian radiates positivity simply to serve as a light to others (and that he is lactose intolerant.)

From spending such a great deal of time with my remarkable co-participants through future tea excursions, weekly meetings, service engagements, and all interactions in between, I have subconsciously noted these qualities; turning to my learnings as a guide in means to support them.

I can affirm they have done the same for me.  This group has taught me how to understand: understand that it is okay to ask for help when I am feeling overwhelmed, understand that my abilities and experiences are appreciated, and understand that they will be there for me.

So while I will carry this climate of support and understanding for only one week in Ecuador, I know I will hold it with me and seek it long after my return; graciously upholding this commitment.




Exploring Privilege

By: Jahvon Dockery, Junior

The Pitt Pantry serves members of the Pitt community that self-identifies as being below the Federal Poverty Line. We started off our first meeting of the new year touring the Pitt Pantry in the basement of Bellefield Church and moved to the room next door for our talk on privilege. The setting of our meeting really set the tone for the evening. Privilege is definitely an important topic that we needed to cover since we may be going into communities in Ecuador that may be very different than ours in terms of privilege.

We started off our discussion by learning more about our own privilege by participating in a privilege walk. During the privilege walk, we all were lined up across the room and took a step forwards or backwards based on the relevance of a statement that Misti read out to us. To start, we held each other’s hands but after just a few statements the majority of us were already broken apart. During the activity, I was very much absorbed into my thoughts of privilege and the steps that I was taking. It wasn’t until the end of the activity that I noticed how far apart people were from each other. Following that activity, we had a great debrief on how we felt, how the statements posed set up the activity, and what we could take away from the privilege walk.

Following the privilege walk, we then thought on a macro level and participated in a privilege gallery in which we all wrote down what being a member of privilege group (even if we were not of that group) gets you in terms of aspects such as healthcare, education, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. For this activity, for each specific facet there was an area for us to write our responses based on the privilege group in United States and responses based on what we know about the privilege groups in Ecuador. We have not yet done much research into privilege in Ecuador at this point so the majority of those lists were blank at the conclusion of the activity.  After reading through all of the responses together, we finished our meeting with a closing discussion on privilege in United States and Ecuador. While we did not know much about Ecuador at that point, we all made it a goal of ours to seek out information before our trip in March.

This meeting was definitely one of my favorite meetings because while the topic was very deep, I left feeling more informed than I have at similar programs and trainings that I have participated in before. Understanding our privilege and what it gets us in United States has better prepared us for the interactions that we will have with others in Ecuador.

Serve Local & Global
mlk day of service

By: Matthew Wecht, Senior

College is a bubble, no one denies that. We live in blissful ignorance of the world around us, focusing on our studies and next week’s plans rather than the developments of the neighborhoods around us. The university is an island in a sea of reality for many students, and we live disconnected from the people that are around us. Events like PMADD and the MLK day of service are designed to break us out of the college bubble and connect with the community around us. Through spreading Pitt students across the city and helping to make the area a more connected and happier place, we all become closer. The spirit behind these local days of service is something that can never harm a community, and it is with these ideas that we are traveling to Ecuador.

South America is many miles away from the Pitt campus, and yet to many students, it is just as far as 15 minutes off campus. Just as the local days of service focus on connecting communities through mutual interests and service, we hope to do that through our week-long trip and follow up activities upon return. Just because we are going abroad does not mean that we have to leave the intentions and experiences we have from local service at home. If we can successfully bring the connections we form in Ecuador back to Pitt than we will succeed in what each PMADD and MLK day of service tries to do, making the world a smaller place.


Understanding Culture

By: Daniel Lampman, Senior

Between meetings focusing on growing as volunteers and developing fundraising plans, our group was given the opportunity to improve our Ecuadorian cultural education by meeting with Caser, an Ecuadorian graduate student here at the University of Pittsburgh. Caser came to our meeting expecting to give a presentation on his home country in order to supply us with background information before we step off the plane and start working in a foreign country. However, what he found was a group of students eager to ask questions and excited to learn the information that travel guides do not mention.

In our conversations, Caser described the demographics of the country, the political and social groups, and a few of the primary issues that Ecuadorian citizens are concerned with. However, I felt the most important piece of information he shared was a book title. Caser told our group that if we wanted to begin understanding Ecuadorian culture, we needed to read Huasipungo (The Villagers) by Jorge Icaza. I decided to take Caser’s advice.

Huasipungo is a novel, first written in 1934, that describes how an indigenous village in Ecuador is exploited and exterminated by its landlord. It has been described as a social protest novel that can be found on the same shelf as Dostoevsky and Zola. It is blunt, brutal, and difficult to read at some points, but Caser was right. We needed to read this book. As an American who is ignorant to the social system in Ecuador, I now have the shallow beginnings of an understanding of Ecuadorian society and history. I acknowledge that reading this book is a very minor step, but I am incredibly grateful that Caser recommended the novel and I hope to now pass this book to all of the Breakers so they are able to continue their Ecuadorian cultural education before or after our trip in March.



Forming a Group

By: Michael Coutinho, Senior

Aligning thirteen undergraduate students from different majors, academic years, and various departments requires a strong purpose. For that matter, creating any group relies on a central goal. Our team was founded based on our desire to serve. The PittServes International break team consists of students who want more than academics out of their University of Pittsburgh experience.

As a group we have spent a lot, A LOT, of time getting to know ourselves and our traveling compatriots. The reasoning behind this is simple; in order to serve others, we must first know ourselves. We have created life maps and shared them in our weekly meetings. This has helped us identify meaningful parts of our lives that we wish to share. These stories are us. These events on the map are the reasons for why we seek to serve.

By seeking to understand each other’s motivations we have created stronger bonds to people we may have not known at the start of this year. These bonds will travel with us to Ecuador; to Quito and to Otavalo. Our team has shared many dinners together, fund-raised, and contributed our own funds in order to do something we believe in. We want to extend our community. We want to give a little bit of our time during our spring break to serve.

This is why we formed this group and why we serve.