Ecuador volunteer Madeline Hite-Smaka reflects on convenience, assumptions, and perspective after her first day in service at an early childhood development center for disadvantaged children on the outskirts of Quito. She marvels how at the FUNDAC center in Calderón – which feeds and educates 60 children each daynothing is wasted. In her team journal entry, she reveals how her perspective was deepened by observing, being self-aware, and seeking to learn about cultural differences.


By Madeline (Maddie) Hite-Smaka

Perspective: A particular attitude or way of regarding something; a point of view.

Our first day with the kids and the profesoras (teachers) at FUNDAC was all about shifting my perspective. I started the morning not feeling my best, worried I wouldn’t make it out of the hotel. But it took some self-awareness, and shifting my focus from my stomach to my service, and a couple of good deep breaths to help me realize I had what it took to step out the door. I knew myself well enough to trust I could make it through the day. If I’m wanting to promote self-reliance, I figure it’s important to practice it myself.

Quito, Ecuador nestled high in the Andes Mountains

The drive into Calderón was captivating, as I still worked to keep from focusing on my body, the wall of protective Andean mountains guarding a city working so hard to keep moving and keep living, it was easy to change perspective. Arriving at FUNDAC, I had certainly formed an image in my mind of what it would look and smell like, but there was a quick moment of, “OH, I had NO idea”. And then my perspective changed from assumption to reception. I had to stop assuming I was prepared and open myself up to receiving information and new perspectives. And I practiced it throughout the day.

At meal time, the profesoras (teachers) ensured that all of the children were eating, and eating quickly. It looked at first a lot less like ensuring and more like demanding. No apple left on the core, no broth left to slosh, every single scrap simply made another spoonful. Some kids seemed hesitant to eat, turned away from the idea of another bite. And I watched Profe Ruby (Teacher Ruby) blink slowly at a young Miguel as he nibbled. To me, he looked sad. To Ruby, he was clearly pouting. And quite possibly, he wasn’t going home to another meal. And my perspective changed. This isn’t animal cracker snack time at a babysitting gig because the kids need a break from playing. Each meal is spread out to all of the children on a minimal budget and is ensuring their nutrition, while also teaching them to be self-sufficient. One-year-olds spooning food in their mouths, three-year-olds waiting for the rest of the group to be done so that they can wash their hands. Everything was rooted in the intention to survive and thrive.

“Everything was rooted in the intention to survive and thrive.”

It resonated in so many more moments throughout the day. They weren’t just drying glue on their hands because they were bored. Maggie, our Team Leader, told me it was a way for them to practice their motor skills, with peeling the glue off of their hands, that was fun and also very free. After nap time, we made sure all of the kids would “ponte guapo” or “get handsome” or “pretty” and change into clean clothes, get their hair brushed and clean up nice, completely ready to go when their parents arrived. There was not a single hold up in the day, any time outs happened immediately, without a tantrum in sight. The kids were kids, but they were very much so functioning people. Not because of discipline, none of their childlike wonder or imagination taken away from them. It just simply seems to be the way of the culture.

“The kids were kids, but they were very much so functioning people. Not because of discipline, none of their childlike wonder or imagination taken away from them. It just simply seems to be the way of the culture.”

On the ride back to the hotel, my mom asked me what some of the biggest differences from my time traveling in Europe were, and immediately I said, “Everything, it’s almost all opposite”. But the most distinguishing factor is that nothing much seems to be done for convenience. All things that are functioning here in Quito, seem to mostly function out of sheer necessity. Working in an American grocery store, for Americans, it is ALL convenience. My coworkers and I have made jokes about the complaints we get about not having certain produce in stock.

“Arugula isn’t even in season, sorry we couldn’t make it ORGANIC for you.”

In the spirit of not making assumptions about a place I don’t live in, I don’t want to assume that doesn’t happen here. But observing the children today, and how restaurants simply serve one menu, or what they have on hand, I have a deepened perspective on how much energy my country spends on ensuring convenience. And then how much waste happens because of that energy.

At FUNDAC? That energy is instead spent on ensuring nurturing, nutrition, patience, and dependence on the self and the community. And it is breathtaking. And all simply in a day’s work.

Nataly eating her lunch at the center – rice, chick peas, and plantains

” At FUNDAC? That energy is instead spent on ensuring nurturing, nutrition, patience, and dependence on the self and the community. And it is breathtaking. And all simply in a day’s work.”


For more stories on Ecuador, check out:

THE WONDERFUL WOMEN OF FUNDAC – 30 YEARS OF CARE FOR CHILDREN
A SAFE ENVIRONMENT NEEDED TO PROSPER AND GROW
GLEEFUL CHILDREN PLAY AT WATER TABLE IN ECUADOR

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