I have recently been given the opportunity to experience something very humbling; something that has changed my outlook on life dramatically. This summer, I found two weeks to travel to Ecuador and volunteer. I used the volunteer agency Institute of Field Research and Expeditions, or IFRE, for housing and safety. I went alone for my first ever international travel. The poverty I saw, the people I met, and the culture I was immersed into has affected the way I see things and my appreciation for the things I have.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
I could describe my host family, or the mountain landscapes, or the effect Spanish immersion had on my language fluency, but I thought it best to jump straight to what had the most profound effect on me. In Ecuador, the gap between rich and poor is immense, and the streets were packed with low-end venders, homeless, and beggars. My second week abroad, my path crossed with a young boy, dirty in the face – his name forever engraved in my memory; Alfredo. On the street I stooped down to ask his name, how old he was; getting quiet responses, I asked where his family was. I will never forget the way his eyes turned down; innocent and young, barely five years old, but filled with so much sadness. This was just one boy suffering in a city and country where thousands of others were struggling. I had no Idea what to do; this child, Alfredo, standing before me, helpless and forgotten in a big city street, was surviving only by passing pedestrians; his life hung in the balance by how much strangers wanted to give him. I couldn’t leave him, so I took him to a church that promised to give him a home.
I will also remember another woman I met on the streets of Ecuador. She was huddled up, wrapped up tight in an old cloth, squeezing her baby close to her chest, sunken into a groove in one of the buildings, trying to stay warm in the chilly night. When I passed by, at first, I only glanced, but something drew my eye. She was rocking slightly as if putting the baby to sleep. We made eye contact, and in those seconds, she shared some of her pain with me. I felt part of her grief; in my heart, there was a longing to help; I was sad beyond belief for this women and her child. The woman had tears pouring from her eyes, just slightly rocking, looking up at me, just for a second before casting her glance downward towards her child pulled to her chest. I could never imagine what this woman was going through, how much pain she had, but I knew she needed help; a hand to pull her towards shelter and safety. So I extended mine, in hopes of relieving some of her pain. I sat with her for awhile, and after, I convinced her to allow me to take her to a home my host parents had mentioned, a place for her to get a bed and food for her and her baby.
These are just two people that struck my heart during my travels. Countless more people, countless experiences had such a huge effect on me. I told these occasions with such description only to express how profound they were to me and to try to capture the essence of each person. These are real people, real poverty, real pain. I urge others to travel, to be given the chance to help a boy like Alfredo.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.