Roughly the size of Colorado, Ecuador is a South American country rich in cultural and ethnic diversity. However, poverty in Ecuador is rampant, with more than 21% of Ecuadorians living below the poverty line. Poverty also disproportionately affects Indigenous populations, who have less access to resources like clean water and health care. Fortunately, many gap year programs fighting poverty in Ecuador let students get involved in the cause while allowing them to experience Ecuadorian culture. Here are three gap year programs fighting poverty in Ecuador:
3 Gap Year Programs Fighting Poverty in Ecuador
- YanaPuma Foundation: The first of these gap year programs fighting poverty in Ecuador is the YanaPuma Foundation, an NGO that began in 2006. Its main initiative is promoting Ecuador’s community development by focusing on six principles. These principles include sustainability, social justice, respect, freedom, transparency and professionalism. With YanaPuma, students can get involved in various initiatives, ranging from teaching English in the Andes to building natural infrastructure for the Shuar ethnic group in the Amazon. Another of YanaPuma’s ongoing projects is the “Edible Forest Restoration” project. This project aims to provide crops that provide economic and nutritional advantages to the Indigenous population of Tsa’chila. To further this initiative in 2019, the organization planted 2,500 saplings.
- United Planet: United Planet aims to create an interconnected global community by providing people the opportunity to immerse themselves in new cultures. Through its programs, participants work with children to enrich their education by tutoring them and teaching them English. Additionally, volunteers work with impoverished children in Ecuador to support human rights developmental programs that help disadvantaged, disabled and orphaned children. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization has expanded its program to include the option to virtually volunteer in Ecuador.
- CIS Abroad: CIS Abroad provides students the opportunity to study abroad in many countries. Like United Planet, it aims to promote global awareness and help people become international citizens while bridging the gap between cultures. CIS Abroad currently has eight gap year programs fighting poverty in Ecuador. These programs allow students to serve in various ways, from teaching at-risk Ecuadorian children to creating a service project in a local Ecuadorian community in need. This program is a unique opportunity because it connects participants to local organizations already working to have specific impacts on the community.
Jeffery Fishman is a rising sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania. Fishman took a gap year to live in Ecuador for eight months and help with poverty alleviation efforts there.
In an interview with The Borgen Project Fishman said that “While living in the Imbabura Province of Northern Ecuador as a Global Citizen Year fellow, I worked at Fundación Arupo, an Ibarra-based therapy center for children with special needs. Fundación Arupo is a unique therapy center in that it provides physical, speech, occupational, psychological and psycho-pedagogical therapy all in one location. In the mornings, I worked to organize monthly events for students in local school districts to teach them about special needs and to encourage an inclusive learning environment. In the afternoons, I helped out the therapists during therapy sessions with the children. Additionally, I lived with an Indigenous host family who introduced me to the Kichwa culture.”
Fishman explains that while living in San Vincent, an agrarian society, he saw poverty firsthand. He said that “Most community members were agrarian workers, who lived off the day-to-day income they earned through selling their crops at markets. As a result, salaries in the community were often unstable and variable depending on the season and product demand. Even so, the community was very tight-knit and was able to band together to help each other out when they fell upon hard times. In terms of infrastructure, the community faced frequent water shortages that could last anywhere from a few hours to a few days.”
Poverty Alleviation and Cultural Immersion
While Fishman engaged in much rewarding anti-poverty work, he was also able to experience Ecuadorian culture. “My favorite Ecuadorian food was llapingachos, which are these fried potato pancakes cooked in achiote and are super crispy and delicious,” he said. “I loved conversations with my host family, where we shared aspects of our lives. Our nights together were filled with laughter and smiles until our cheeks were sore, and no matter how my day was going, I knew dinner would always cheer me up!”
Fishman’s experience, along with these three gap year programs fighting poverty in Ecuador, highlights the enriching experience of volunteering abroad. Not only can students who take a gap year immerse themselves in a new culture, but they can also actively work to help fight poverty in Ecuador and elsewhere around the globe.
– Kira Lucas