Ecuadorean Experience: Juniata Students Build up Service Learning Overseas
(Posted June 23, 2008)
HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- For typical college students, summer vacation usually means a job at the mall or a backpacking trip across Europe. At Juniata College, a small group of students headed off to build a project for a school (and earn college credit doing so) in a mountain village in Ecuador.
The students were part of Juniata's Cultural Learning Course, which offers one credit for a two-week excursion to an international or domestic location. The tour is in its third year (trips to Guatemala in 2006 and Appalachia in 2007 preceded this year's tour).
"Service projects are the avenue into these communities but the real learning comes from interacting with the people we meet, seeing the cultural values of the community and talking about what we've seen with our hosts and among ourselves."
The tour was led by Rosalie Rodriguez, special assistant to the president for diversity and inclusion, and Shauna Morin, community service and service learning coordinator (who recently left Juniata to become associate director of student life and student activities at Hope College in Holland, Mich.). Six Juniata students accompanied them to the Intag River Valley region of Ecuador.
The group traveled to Pocara, a small village on the western slopes of the Andes mountain range. The group built the foundation for a community shower that is an adjunct to the village school and also built an open-air deck classroom with a thatched roof.
"Service projects are the avenue into these communities but the real learning comes from interacting with the people we meet, seeing the cultural values of the community and talking about what we've seen with our hosts and among ourselves," Morin says.
In addition to their visit to Pocara, the group visited an indigenous crafts market in Otavalo and toured Lake Cuicocha, a lake created in the crater formed by a volcanic caldera. The group also visited an organic farm and a commercial coffee farm.
"This was my first trip out of the United States and the families we ate meals with and stayed with were very welcoming which had a lasting impression," says Katie Cibort, a senior from Steelton, Pa. "They told us many times that we were their family now, and that if we came back to Ecuador we had to visit. I think this was an eye-opening experience for me."
Rodriguez says the group also spent time in Ecuador's capital city, Quito. The group was able to observe voting on a series of government referendums under the new policies of Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa.
"There were thousands of people rallying in the city and it was an amazing sight," Rodriguez says. "We had no idea that the rallies were going on when we came to Quito, but it was a great experience."
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