After spending most of my summer attempting to learn and most of the time failing at Spanish, I have now finished wild ride of an internship in Ecuador. It was an incredible experience and as I try to readjust to the American culture and NOT respond to people with "gracias, señor", I thought I would give a brief overall summary of my summer.
Quick - 5 minute summary:
It wouild be an understatement to say that HCJB kept us interns busy. Throughout our six weeks, there was plenty of work to do and plenty of culture and sights to take in. In all, there were 17 student interns in the program, 5 engineers, 4 media students, 7 medical students and one translator. We were incredibly diverse, coming from all over the country, from California to New Jersey to Montana to Vermont and Texas and many more. We were split up into two groups: the first of which stayed in the capital of Quito and the second which traveled down to the jungle in Shell. I was part of the latter (Score!) with two other engineering interns, Renee Lau and Ryan Hough, and three medical interns.
Renee, Ryan and I spent the majority of our time working Monday through Friday in the community development office in Shell with four other missionary engineers. Our main projects included a topographical survey of the jungle community of Amazonas, a water usage study of the Hospital, updating outdated Autocad drawings and many other small tasks that needed to be done.
Throughout the summer, we would join the Quito interns for the weekends or for other "short" trips, such as the trip to the mountain community of Daldal where we spent two days digging trenches for their water project. As a group spent time with the kids as well, holding "VBS"-style camps for both the national children as well as the local missionary kids. These were almost as wild and crazy as the jungle trips...
In all, I would have to say that this has been one of the most effective mission/humanitarian groups that I have ever been a part of. Even as an intern, I felt like I had something to contribute and actually a help rather than a hindrance. I also felt that we as an organization were making significant strides in helping these, in some ways primitive, communities in their long-term development, something that is surprisingly rare among missions and humanitarian trips.
The Longer, Makes-Me-Scratch-My-Head-And-Think summary:
These trips are unique in the sense that it becomes nearly impossible to return from them unaffected and to simply return to life-as-was. As a result, here are some things that stuck out to me as I was reflecting on my time at the equator and the missions work that HCJB does.
1) It doesn't matter where you are or what work your are doing, it's still all about the people
Whether they speak English or Spanish, live in the northern hemisphere or the southern, people are the same. They just want someone to notice them, they want some ray of hope and purpose in their life and they want to be a part of a community.
2) There is one culture that can unify
As interns, we spent the first week of our trip in Quito getting trained on the cultural differences between the U.S. and Ecuador. During this week, the current missionaries did their best to teach us the best ways to relate to and develop relationships with the nationals without offending their culture. It was pretty overwhelming at first as it seemed that even if I had 100 years of orientation, I was not going to fully understand their culture to relate to them. But as soon as we began to interact with the local Ecuadorians, it became clear that even though as one missionary put it, "we gringos can tend to bulls in the cultural china cabinet", our culture of christianity was enough to span the gap. We didn't understand why they had to greet every single person with a "buenos dias", even if it ment interrupting a meeting, and they didn't understand why cared so much about getting to places exactly at the right time, but what we did understand was that we were all sinners and we all had the same savior. We had this underlying common thread of unity that helped us grow in relationship even when I would say I was married "estoy casado" instead of I'm tired "estoy cansado"
Another good example of this cross-cultural unity was in the Shell office where we had four different engineers from four different countries (USA, UK, Ecuador, Netherlands) working with three engineering interns from California, West Virginia, and Colorado. We came from such unique backgrounds, yet it was incredible how easily everyone came together with one common purpose of helping out the local communities.
Equally as cool, in kind of a random set of events, I had the priveledge of sitting in when the media team interviewed Mincaye, one of the Waorani who spears the five missionaries back in 1956. Looking from the outside, we were about as opposite as two people could get. I came from an affluent, modern suburb in the middle of the US, spoke English and bout y food from a grocery store. Mincaye grew up in a hostile jungle environment spearing monkeys and eating them for dinner. And he spoke such a rare jungle dialect that we needed two different translators just to speak with him. And yet, somehow, talking with him, you would have felt as if he were just one your best friends that you haven't seen in a while. It was a incredible community and an awesome experience.
3) HCJB is a good example of how following God works.
When HCJB first began, the founders felt a call to base their headquarters in Ecuador. They didn't know it at the time, but because the headquarters were in the mountains on the equator, the mission would later be able to broadcast short wave christian radio to both the northern and southern hemisphere and therefore reach essentially the whole world. I think that it is this attitude that has helped HCJB reach the place they are today. Throughout the mission, there is general belief and trust in God and other people. When engineers Bruce Rydbeck or Alfredo Leon head into a community, they don't go in with the mindset that they know everything or with the feeling that they are better than the community members. They go in looking to learn from the community and see how they can fit in and provide the community with what they really need. Oftentimes, this involves putting off projects until the community is more prepared for the endeavor, or walking the community through the process of raising up water committy leaders and representatives. The whole goal of the process is to help the communities grow together and to learn about God. If this isn't happening, the project often gets put on hold.
It is cool to see how the development and interests of the communities are put above that of the HCJB engineers. It may seem tedious and frustrating at times, but so many people have responded with praise, remarking that many groups often come and promise things, but that HCJB is the first to follow through. It is clear that people are above product. Which brings me to...
4) I love this type of engineering
I love how much this trip has shown that engineering can be a very social and people-oriented field instead of just a numbers game. And the cool part is that it doesn't have to take place in Ecuador for this to be the case. For me, it is so easy for me to overlook the people in engineering due to the current mathematical or engineering problem in front of me. This trip has been a great example of how engineering can still be a very people-oriented career.
...to all of you that gave so generously to help me go on this trip. It was a blast and very encouraging to see how my field of engineering can actually make a difference not only in people's material, but spiritual lives as well. I had a wonderful time and am hoping to make it back there sometime soon.
If you are reading this, it means that you made it through all of that crazy writing above me, and for that I applaud you. If you would still like to hear more about the trip or just want to talk, let me know. I would be more than happy to. Thanks again, and God bless.