Day 2 : Prep work, Vacation Bible School, and meeting the kids at the Compassion project
On Monday, we all awoke with excitement for the day ahead and the work we were about to begin. At the same time, we all felt a bit of nervousness too… Would we be able to cross the language barrier with these kids and project staff? Would we be able to complete our work projects in just 3 days? Would the weather cooperate or would the Ecuadorian sun burn us to a crisp? Thankfully, God helped our day start off on the right foot, with cloudy skies and cool breezes, which continued all three days that we were working at the project site! After a tasty breakfast of eggs and Bolon (I found a recipe here and hope to try it soon!), we loaded the bus and headed toward the project site.
We spent our week working at the church and Compassion project next to this school, about a 30 minute drive outside of Manta, Ecuador. The church was built about a year ago as a result of a partnership between the Camino De Santidad Mission, Compassion International, Stadia, First Christian Church of Champaign, and 3 other churches in the US. The church and Compassion projects are separate entities from each other and from the school, but they all serve the children and families in this community.
While the kids were attending school in the morning each day (from about 8am – 12:30pm), our team was working hard at the project site… unless it was recess time! Then the kids all rushed over to the fence separating the school from the church, and we began bridging the communication gap. The kids were so excited to see us, and they were very patient with our fumbled attempts at Spanish. Thankfully, a few of us knew a few key phrases (What is your name? My name is… How old are you? How are you today? etc…) and I was thrilled that as the week went by, more and more words from my high school Spanish classes crept up from the recesses of my brain to help me communicate!
As we began getting to know the kids through the fence, God began working in all of us – showing each of us the universal need of children to be valued, heard, cared for, and loved… no matter the location or language. I was continually impressed by the demeanor of the Compassion staff and the tutors at the project site – always willing to stop and give a child a hug, a smile, an encouraging word…
About an hour after we arrived at the project site, the real physical work began… Our main goal for the week was to create a 20’x28′ concrete patio, covering a patch of rocky dirt that served as a courtyard between the church building and the Compassion program classrooms. When we arrived that morning, the courtyard was simply dirt, with several mounds of rock scattered throughout. Our first task was to level the ground and prepare for the concrete. One load of dirt arrived and we all pitched in!
No fancy tools here – just a handful of shovels and a hand tamp to pass around and take turns spreading and compacting the dirt. The team leaders (Fabian – a local contractor, and Jose – the pastor of the church) ran string guides across the area and some of the guys started working up the first batch of concrete by hand… yep, a pile of sand, rock, cement mix and water on the ground, mixed with a shovel. Labor-intensive for sure, without much yield. However, that is usually the only way people in this community can do projects like this, because the funds are limited and the time is limitless… By the time we were supposed to stop for lunch, the guys had mixed enough concrete to pour one strip about 2’x18’… not much progress for the day, so our team started suggesting ideas of renting a mixer for the next two days… hopefully…
After lunch, we got to spend time with all of the kids during their normal Compassion program time. This was a great opportunity to see the main way that Compassion directly works with children. The format is similar to an after-school type of program combined with Sunday School. The children start arriving around 1:30pm, after they have gone home and changed out of their school uniforms into play clothes. The program officially starts at 2pm, when the program director (a wonderful woman named Maribel) leads the kids in singing songs and Bible verse memory work. Then the kids typically split up into groups by age (3-5, 6-7, 8-up) and do a Bible lesson followed by completing their homework from school. Then they have some playtime, and finally the program staff prepares and serves dinner to the kids before their parents come pick them up around 5pm.
During our visit, however – instead of their normal Bible lesson and homework time, we led them in a VBS-type of activity. Our trip coordinator, Rachel, had brought along all the supplies for 200 children to create a Resurrection Eggs craft, and the kids were really excited about it!
On this first day of our time at the project, we went through the first 6 eggs to highlight the first 6 parts of the resurrection week story – Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (a little palm tree), Judas’ betrayal for 30 pieces of silver (3 plastic coins), the last supper (a cup), Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (a flower), the soldiers flogging Jesus with whips (a small piece of leather), and the crown of thorns placed on Jesus’ head (a circle of tied twine).
After we finished up their craft for the day, and before we got to spend some time playing with them outside, it was time for hugs… and boy, can these kids give hugs!! Then we headed outside to play some soccer in the courtyard (carefully avoiding the fresh concrete) and take lots and lots of pictures! The kids were drawn to my camera like a magnet, and I probably heard the phrase “una foto?” more often than anything else the entire week, especially from this little girl:
Some of the kids really hammed it up for the camera, making silly faces or giving bunny ears, but this girl on the right (I believe her name is Belen) preferred to hide her true smile – she’d only break out into a big toothy grin when looking at the picture on the back of my camera!
We noticed that even though this is a very dusty area with extreme poverty, the kids are all dressed in clean, well-kept clothes. One of our Compassion guides mentioned that this is one simple change they’ve noticed since the church and Compassion project have become a part of this community. As the children have learned about God’s plan for their lives and their parents have learned more about child development and parenting skills, small changes like this start to improve their overall quality of life.
Soon it was time for the kids to eat supper, which is another benefit for those children who participate in the Compassion program – a healthy meal at the end of the day. We were able to help serve the meal that was prepared in the small kitchen just off of the courtyard area. One interesting thing – the kids had a warm oatmeal milk for their drink… we never tried it, but it looked pretty similar to almond milk…
Finally, it was time to head back to our hotel for our dinner and to rest after a long day. Before we left, we took this picture of our entire group with all of these smiling faces… what a great day spending time with incredible kids!