First of all, I thought coming to the equator would mean warm weather and sunny skies. Boy, was I wrong. At this altitude, the climate is more like early spring. The days are cool and the nights are quite cold and most afternoons are cloudy. The average temperature is only around 57 degrees but can get in the 70s in the middle of a sunny day. I brought all short sleeve shirts and had to go out and buy some long sleeve shirts and sweaters. At this altitude, it also takes awhile for your lungs to get used to a lesser percentage of oxygen in the air I breathe. The first week or so, I walked quite slowly. Actually, it seems that most people here walk quite slow.
Quito is the capital city of Ecuador and was founded in the 16th century on the ruins of g volcano Pichincha. It is a long, narrow city that runs north to south within this plateau The city is flanked by volcanoes which can be seen atop some hills on clear days. . The population is around 1.5 million.
Quito has a lot of unaltered historic buildings and streets and is an UNESCO site, especially in the Old Town at the center of the city. (More on this later after I get a chance to check it out more)
I noticed that most people do not speak English thus I am glad I started to learn a bit of Spanish before I came.
That brings us to the reason I am here. I decided to do something a bit different on this vacation. First, in order to learn a bit about the culture and to bring a bit of Ecuador back home I felt I needed to spend more time in the country, take Spanish lessons so I could talk to the local people, live with a family in Quito and volunteer to teach English at an elementary school. After a lot of research, I decided to go with the Yanapuma Foundation out of Quito. I liked the way the organization was run and the volunteer organizers were great to work with. They provided me with useful suggestions on where to volunteer as well as available home stays. They also have Spanish teachers so I could get in daily Spanish lessons after my volunteer sessions. I decided to take a Quito position rather than a more rural position so I could have the weekends to check out other areas and Quito has the transportation means to do that within a weekend period of time.
My teaching assignment was at INEPE (The Institute ofResearch, Education and Promotion of Ecuador) which is a community based organization. It provides alternate participatory education methods in areas of Local Development, Communication, Research, Education, School of Music,Teacher training and Community Health. (http://inepe.net/web/inicio) or on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/INEPE). I was assigned to teach English to 5th and 6th graders. Prior to this assignment I was under the impression that I would be helping an already established English teacher. However, what happened was that I WAS the English teacher and their main teachers did not speak a word of English. The significance of this was that I had to teach the classes in Spanish. There is no other way the children could understand what needed to be taught. Talk about language immersion!!!! However, we are managing to communicate with a lot of out of classroom effort on my part. The kids are great and eager to learn. I used quite few ESL for kids online resources to prepare for the classes and had actually copied a lot of material before even coming to Quito,which turned out to be extremely useful.
Living at a home stay:
This is another great way to immerse oneself in the local culture and language. I am staying with a woman and her daughter. The mother is a publicity consultant and her daughter is a college student at a local college. Neither of them speak any English either. The daughter's way of handling it is to pretend I'm not there. Ah, maybe if I was 20 years old instead of a retired old lady, it would be different. The mother is great and we get along well even though it is hard to have an adult conversation with my lack of Spanish vocabulary. I can't beat the cost either. My room, breakfasts, dinners,and weekly laundry for the month is less than what I would pay for a room with no meals for a few days anywhere else.