This guest blog post is brought to OSSO by recent Ecuador volunteer, Michelle Olsen.
Leaving home and everything I knew to fly on my own for the first time (for two full days, I might add) to a place where I would be surrounded by people speaking Spanish while my limited vocabulary consisted of knowing how to say “Hola” and count to ten seemed a little daunting at first, I will admit.
But, from the second I landed here in the beautiful city of Cuenca, I knew this place and these people would soon capture my heart and make every moment of the three months I would spend here feel like home. And, boy, was I right.
Even after only being here for a little more than a month, I can say this experience has easily and already impacted my life in so many ways. Cliché, I know; but it's amazed me at how much love there is to give. And I know for every ounce of love I can give to the kids here, the love that spills out from their sweet smiles and giggles and hugs in return is so much more than I ever thought possible.
On one of my first days here, I remember walking into one of the orphanages we visit. The second the kids saw us, the excitement that lit up their faces as they ran up to us and hugged us was one of the most heartwarming things I've experienced. Even though I wasn't able to speak their language, having orphans grab my hands so I’d play with them and seeing them write my name with a heart in chalk and sign it “Love, your friends” — when I’d only just met them 20 minutes ago — showed me the amount of love these children have to give. And, when it came time for us to go, having kid after kid sit on my lap and cling on to me saying they didn’t want me to leave, in that moment I knew that any amount of time I give up to come serve here is 100 percent worth it and then some.
Even with some of the kids with special needs who aren't able to be as responsive, I quickly developed a relationship with each one of them. And I realized that, even though these kids don't necessarily have the typical definition of a family and their situations are less than fortunate, they are some of the happiest and most grateful people I know. They find inventive ways to play with toys (that are so broken you know the children likely only have these toys because someone else threw them away) and they love every moment of it. Their personalities are full of a love and a joy I can't even begin to comprehend.
I could probably write another 17 paragraphs just about the kids here — and, trust me, I would love to. But I want to mention as well how volunteering with Orphanage Support Services Organization also gives you many other opportunities to develop a love for the culture and experiences and have so much fun doing it.
Whether it's going to the markets in town and buying the cutest handmade merchandise, going on a field trip to visit century-old ruins, listening to free concerts in the park, swinging over the city, going to the zoo, zip lining, visiting cathedrals, or even just having the most entertaining taxi rides into town, there is always so much to do and see.
Every moment here is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
The festivities and celebrations here enrich you culturally. The friendships you make with other volunteers makes it impossible to go two seconds without finding something to laugh about. We're always having fun and trying new things.
Whether it's spending time with the kids or looking at the spectacular views this place has to offer, I am constantly having to pinch myself to make sure this is all real.
Before coming here, I thought three months would be quite a bit of time to spend in a foreign country. But it is seriously scary how fast time flies here and I'm already dreading the day I'll have to say goodbye to some of my favourite people on this earth. I honestly could stay here forever. The memories I've already made and the ones I know are to come are and will be some of my most treasured moments.
I know that even though I came here in the hopes that I could make even the smallest difference in one of these kids’ lives, it's already apparent to me that the life that is being changed the most is mine.
So, my advice to anyone who is even just considering volunteering or who thinks it's a cool idea?
I can guarantee you will not regret it in the slightest bit. Ecuador has my heart and I couldn't be any happier to leave it here.