After 2 weeks of orientation, Spanish lessons, and adjusting to the 10,000 ft altitude, weeks 3 and 4 were spent applying my newly acquired Spanish skills. Arriving to Pulingi, a tiny community of 200 families at the base of Chimborazo, which happens to be the closest point to the sun from Earth, was quite an eye-opening experience. All 13 of the interns lived on the same dirt road, and the everyday comforts we take for granted (running water, internet, soap) were now luxuries. However, after a few days, I was able to adjust and by the time we were ready to leave, I was even excited to take a bucket shower! What material resources were lacking in the community were more than made up for by the friendliness of the people. You could not walk by someone without a warm greeting and an offer to pet their sheep, or my favorite, llamas.
During our two-week stay, we completed 8 campaigns, serving nearly 700 people with free exams and selling “social good” products including: seeds, solar lights, water purifiers, and reading glasses. In one of our campaigns, we set the record in the northern region for customers served in Simiatug, a city 3 hours away (2 by bus, 1 on the back of a pick-up truck). One of the most rewarding parts of the campaign process was to go through an eye exam with someone (usually an older person), find out their prescription, and see the joy on his or her face when they put on the glasses and could read clearly again.
Tomorrow we leave for Zamora to spend two more weeks doing the same thing in a city on the edge of the Amazon. It is hard to believe I have already been in Ecuador for 5 weeks and only 3 weeks remain in this unbelievable summer experience. I can remember standing in my driveway 10 years ago welcoming my oldest brother Ben home from his SIBC summer internship in China. With the 25th anniversary of SIBC nearly upon us, I would personally like to express my gratitude to Frank Potenziani and everyone who has taken part in SIBC since 1989 to make this Council what it is today, one of the most far-reaching student-run organizations in the country. Personally, this trip has really helped to expand my worldview, especially in South America, and on behalf of the other interns, I think it is safe to say our internships are great inspiration for us to continue to push our limits as students and leaders to make positive impacts both at Notre Dame and around the world in the coming years.
Adios from Ecuador,
Only one way down from here! Paragliding in Paute.