An Essay by VISIONS Service Adventures Alumna Darya Alvarez

I remember first telling people my plans to travel to Ecuador for the summer, and many of them asked me why I was doing something like that. I thought about this for a long time. I love traveling to some of the most untouched corners of the earth, and with my family’s Ecuadorian roots, Ecuador was perfect. In fact, some of my relatives still live in Guayaquil.

I had never visited Ecuador before, and I was happy this was my first experience there. Last summer, I lived in the town of Patate for four weeks while doing community service work with VISIONS Service Adventures for its citizens. We also stayed on the island of San Cristobal in the Galapagos for three days to continue doing service with a bit more sightseeing.

Over my time in both settings, I experienced the true culture and hardships of the people living there. The thought of walking five miles every day through the pouring rain to get to your farm, taking cold showers, eating the same food every night, or having your roof leak when it rains seems pretty unbearable for us and the way we live. But these people not only live in these conditions, they also prosper generation after generation.

I made so many friends, not just with the people I was traveling with, but also with the locals. Our group became integrated into the community. I remember seeing the culture surround us in the form of faith and kindness from the locals, even through things like nightly soccer games.

Though we did stick out, these people accepted us and appreciated us for what we were doing no matter how small the effect. Just building a small tourist center, painting a school, working at the daycare, working on the farms with the locals (even milking a cow!), or working in a handicapped center showed these people that no matter where we come from, there are still people that care. I experienced long lasting friendships, insane thrills, terrifying moments, and a fairytale come true that I will remember for the rest of my life. I was shown life outside of the one in which I live, and that is something I think every person on this earth should experience. I was able to live like others who do not have a lot, yet find a way to be so happy. VISIONS really made a huge difference in my life, and I won’t lose what I have gained through that experience.

So now that I have come all the way to the end of this trip I’ve asked myself that question, “Why would I do something like this?” Aside from discovering a new part of me, I think I would have to say that I wanted a new perspective. I wanted to see an unfiltered piece of the world and to understand how the life of others works. These people gave me a new perspective that I would never have gained on my own. This experience was truly one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done, and one day I will go back. So in the end, it’s not about the fact that I went; it’s about the person I became and a feeling for what I plan to do next.

Darya Alvarez, a high school sophomore from New Jersey, was a teen volunteer on the 2015 VISIONS Ecuador & Galapagos program.

VISIONS in The New York Times