well, it is upon us. the end of my practicum and summer fieldwork in Ecuador. while at times I didn’t think I’d ever get to this point, it’s now crazy to believe that my return to the US is happening.
it’s been quite the adventure: I’ve been to the coast and back, twice over. I’ve stood at peaks high above recommended oxygen levels. I’ve visited the middle of the world and South America’s largest indigenous market. I even rode a boat around a lake in the crater of an active volcano. (you can see pics of these adventures, on my gallery page). however, this highlight reel doesn’t really do justice for the summer I’ve had.
last night, I attend Quito’s “Fiesta de la Luz” – a time when the historic center of the city is shut down, and for five consecutive nights, Quiteños (and Ecuadorians from across the country) gather to celebrate this city and this country and enjoy some spectacular art (really, I was blown away by the light shows displayed in La Plaza del Teatro and on the churches of Santo Domingo and the Basilica). standing there in the dark, taking in the scene, surrounded by thousands of others, I had the chance to reflect on my time here and just how much I have appreciated being in Quito and Ecuador.
however, having just returned from a field visit to the coast, I couldn’t forget the images and stories of those who lost their homes nearly sixteen months ago now. while many have rebuilt or repaired their homes, many with the assistance of the government, others with support from NGOs, there are still many who struggle to recover. those who live in declared risk zones where reconstruction is impossible. those who didn’t receive assistance in those initial passes, and who, now that most NGOs are gone and projects are finished, are unlikely to receive assistance. those who received a shelter which is inadequately sized for their large families and who can’t predict when they will have the ability to add to or modify their home.
and then there are those who received shelters that they like and that works for their family, but was designed with temporality in mind. a shelter that in a year or two or maybe five will start to decay.
and for all of these families, and the millions more across the country, what would happen if, Heaven forbid, another earthquake was to strike? are we really building back better? are we actually enabling communities to, themselves, build back better? my focus this summer was on the messaging of safe and secure construction ideas. while these ideas might have stuck for some families (for many, I’m not sure that they did), do they have the resources to build safely on their own? these are all questions for future research (and that of other humanitarians interested in shelter).
now, I don’t want to sound hopeless and dejected because, surely, I am anything but. I was amazed by the strength and resilience of the families that welcomed me into their homes and told me about their path of rebuilding both their homes and their lives. I was moved by the conversations of communities coming together to help their neighbors in need. I learned much from them and the organizations that were responding to the earthquake in three days’ time and are still working to promote safety and health in many communities.
in all, this experience has been one filled with ups and downs, challenges and triumphs, successes and failures. I have learned much along the way and am excited to continue learning. while my Spanish still needs improving, it’s come a long way (and is something I hope not to forget as soon as I return home!).
so, this is not adiós Ecuador, but merely hasta luego. I do hope to see you again very soon.