Ecuador Service Trip
Nestled in the rocky Andean foothills of Ecuador, and 30 minutes outside Quito—the highest capital city in the world—is the hilly town of Conocoto and the Fundación Henry Davis Orphanage. Here, an unlikely partnership has been forged with the Christian missionary school and orphanage; for over three years dozens of Rhode Island College students have worked to build and teach sustainable farming practices to the underserved compound.
In 2014 Dr. Jill Harrison began taking RIC students on service trips to Conocoto and students relished the eye-opening experiences of working in a women’s prison and with the orphanage, but the mission is only just beginning.
Dr. Jill Harrison began her service journey in Ecuador when she was asked to serve as an interpreter for a research study at the women’s prison in Quito. From there she branched out into the community surrounding Quito and made contacts at the Henry Davis Foundation school and orphanage.
“The orphanage is quasi-public,” said Harrison, “and because it cares for children whose parents are in Ecuador’s judicial system and prisons, the government plus private donors provide financial support to the orphanage. It certainly is not a lot and it needs more support, which is why we choose to pay the orphanage for room and board, $20 a day, during our service learning stay.”
“The point of our trip was to help alleviate some of the costs by setting them up to grow their own food,” said Junior Mia Palombo, a student from the 2015 trip on which students and organizers of the school were taught how to maintain a hydroponics room, a compost heap and a garden. Using a few books and her handy Spanish skills, Palombo taught classes on how to maintain the farming systems they set up. Since Palombo’s group’s trip in 2015, RIC students have returned and furthered the progress of this system.
According to Harrison, “Because our focus is food sustainability that includes organic gardening, both hydroponic gardening and traditional gardening, the new focus is to recruit students interested in biology and marketing. The crops are growing, and now the orphanage has an opportunity to not only feed themselves but to sell their produce to the local community.”
“People, especially Americans, hear about problems all over the world and they don’t think about them twice, but there are very specific and easy-to-fix things that we can do to help, they just needed the right tools,” said Senior Randi Tella.
Students stayed with host families in the city of Quito, celebrated New Year’s in traditional Ecuadorian fashion, took in 16th century spanish architecture, zip-lined through the Ecuador’s lush forests and one student, Randi Tella, even made friends with street dogs.
“Experiencing the culture was almost as fulfilling as building something that can keep people alive—it was an incredible trip and I think everyone should go,” Palombo said.
Miriam Contreras-Morales, a student from the 2015 trip, said the most refreshing part of the trip was the children at the orphanage.
“A lot of bias and prejudices come from a lack of understanding, but being able to put yourself in another’s shoes and getting to see how others live, gives you perspective on how the way people grow up shape who they become. It gave me a global perspective working with the children there,” said Contreras-Morales, who recounted that every day the children would greet the students with giant grins and excitement.
When asked if they would want to ever travel back, Randi Tella, from the 2015 trip, said, “oh yeah, really badly!”
The course is open to upper-level classmen, and you must have a minimum GPA of 2.5, a letter of recommendation and have a cleared background check. Conversational Spanish skills is also a plus but not required.
The two organizers of the trip Dr. Maria Lawrence and Dr. Jill Harrison encourage anyone who has a desire to work with schools and children to attend. The trip is a 400-level course, so graduate students are able to attend as well. If students would like to get involved, they can contact Dr. Harrison–email@example.com, via email.