Richmond Hill resident and George Washington University student Brandon Brooks recently spent spring break in Ecuador participating in a group service program.
As part of an alternative spring break program, 12 students and two university representatives from George Washington University in D.C. spent March 11-18 in highland Ecuador, working side-by-side with community members in the indigenous community of Guachinguero and immersing themselves in the local culture.
The program was organized by the nonprofit organization The Tandana Foundation and left an impression on the students.
"I valued working with members of the community and learning from them while doing the best I could do to help," said George Washington University student Morgan Burke.
The group spent their nights at a hostel in the nearby city of Otavalo and their days in Guachinguero, working with community members on an ongoing construction project.
Community members are making improvements to their multi-purpose building. Each day, five to seven community members worked with the students on the building.
Everyone collected and sifted sand to make concrete used for the building. They used hoes to chip away at a small hill, and then shoveled the sand into a large sifting device to separate any rocks and trash from the desired fine grain sand.
Along with collecting and sifting the sand, the students and the community members also mixed cement that was applied to the building's walls to provide better insulation and to make the walls smoother.
The multi-purpose building will serve as a hub for the community, specifically in June, when they host a multi-community soccer competition. Another group of George Washington University student volunteers and others worked on the building last year.
When not working on the multi-purpose building, the group spent time with new friends in the community. Community members taught the students how to make bread.
Guachinguero is known for its crafting of hand-made artisan products. One day several community members taught the students how to make an array of those products, including rosary beads, hats and bracelets. The students hiked around Cuicocha crater lake and to the Taxopamba waterfall.
The group also participated in other activities to learn more about the region's culture. They shopped at the world famous Otavalo market, visited the animal market and went to the Living Kichwa Museum in Otavalo, where they learned about the language and culture of the region’s indigenous people.
For more information or to sign-up for a volunteer venture, please visit www.tandanafoundation.org.