In 2011, I had the opportunity to volunteer at a children’s library and after-school program in Baños de Agua Santa, Ecuador. The program enabled me to live on the Fundación del Mundo complex, work in the children’s library – La Biblioteca Interactíva or La Bib for short – and teach English classes in the evening to local adults who primarily worked in the tourism industry.
On weekends, volunteers were able to travel the country – and what a way to spend a weekend! Due to its unique geographical location, Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. With roughly the same square mileage as Wyoming, Ecuador is divided into four parts that include oceans, green mountains, active volcanoes and the Amazon jungle. Off toward the Pacific Ocean are the Galapagos Islands, part of Ecuador and land of Darwin.
My favorite part of Ecuador was, unsurprisingly, volunteering at La Bib, and especially the quiet reading time with the kids at the beginning of each afternoon. It was not uncommon to see a line of kids outside the gate well before we opened. La Bib was basically the only place in town with books meant to be read for pleasure. We could only accept 45 children ages 6-12 per day, and often we hit that limit. After the 20-minute reading time, we would move on to a craft or activity that had been planned at our weekly Monday meetings.
When I arrived, I had two years of college Spanish under my belt, and I remembered none of it. I found living in the town and working with the kids was the best way to learn Spanish. It was particularly delightful to have my grammar corrected by an adorable 7 year old — definitely less embarrassing.
Spending that summer at La Bib was also so great for me professionally. It forced me to be as creative as possible with children’s programming, having virtually no budget. Volunteers are provided a room of recycled and donated materials. That aspect of the experience stuck with me, as I now used recycled materials in a large percentage of my programs at Anythink Commerce City.
The entire experience was fantastic. So great, in fact, that I decided to visit again the following summer. Between the fascinating mix of indigenous cultures and Spanish colonial influence, the unparalleled natural beauty, the food, and the hospitable people, it is a place I recommend to everyone. I’m confident I’ll visit again.