Haley Green | Greenbrier, TN – Child Development and Psychology, 2018
Haley grew up in Greenbrier, Tennessee, a small town outside Nashville. Currently a sophomore pursuing a double major in child development and psychology, Haley aspires to become a clinical psychologist specializing in children. Through a program with Vanderbilt’s Office Of Academic Citizenship and Service, Haley will travel to Quito, Ecuador and volunteer at schools for children who are underprivileged and/or have disabilities. To be immersed in Ecuadorian culture, Haley will be staying in the homes of Ecuadorian families.
Blog Post One:
The only thing I knew to expect from my time in Ecuador was that I had no idea what to expect. The transition to life in Quito, however, has been unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Learning the bus system and adjusting to a new language in a completely new country has been challenging but very rewarding. After less than a week in Quito, I can already feel my Spanish improving, and navigating Quito’s complicated bus system to get to our service site has been difficult, but has ultimately made me a feel a little more independent.
As far as service goes, working with adults and children with fairly severe disabilities this week has been an interesting experience as well. Despite the lack of available resources, the people of Camp Hope work hard to accommodate the special needs of children and young adults with cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, and various comorbidities. In the vocational room with the jóvenes (young adults), a self-described psychologist and artisan showed me how to make necklaces out of recycled CD’s and key chains out of the hard shells of fruit collected from the surrounding trees. The young adults with disabilities assist with these crafts where they can, and the products are then sold to benefit Camp Hope. Much of my time this week has been spent doing these simple crafts. The knowledge that I am benefiting through this work a foundation that does great work with very little resources, is rewarding. At the same time, the tiny scale of the work I have done so far has been very humbling.
Blog Post Two:
In the seminars our cohort attended before traveling to Ecuador, we were told that we might feel useless at our service sites. This was something I thought I had experienced. I had spent time working at a preschool, despite the fact that I had no idea how to teach three year olds anything or how to change diapers. In high school, I volunteered at an elementary school, where I spent my most productive days stapling papers. I thought I was prepared to feel useless.
Then, I was in a foreign country, surrounded by people who spoke rapid Spanish and knew infinitely more about everything they asked me to do. The people of Camp Hope are some of the most giving, resourceful, and hardworking people I’ve ever had the privilege to encounter. Many of them have been helping people with disabilities since before I had even heard of Ecuador, and now that I’m gone they will continue to do so. I spent seventeen roughly five and a half hour days volunteering at Camp Hope, and I probably spent most of that time feeling more useless than I ever have. My Spanish is terrible; I had no experience with people with severe disabilities; there were far more volunteers than students in my room; and even if there were more volunteers, there didn’t seem to be much to do in the first place. I hadn’t expected to save anyone, but I had expected to feel helpful, however insignificantly. For most of my time in Ecuador, I didn’t know who I was helping, if anyone. I was 2,500 miles from home and had no clue what I was doing.
I know that the goal of this trip was not for us to make a big change at our service sites. We experienced a different culture and dipped our toes in the issues addressed at our service sites. We were supposed to learn about Ecuadorean culture, about people with disabilities, and maybe about ourselves; I think the idea is that we take what this experience has taught us and enact meaningful change later.
I don’t know what meaningful change, if any, I’ll be involved in. But I know that spending a month in Quito, while fascinating and wonderful, was a pretty scary experience for someone who had barely left Tennessee before. From hiking out of the rainforest with a sprained ankle to feeling useless at Camp Hope to zip lining for the first time, it was a month of new experiences that each consecutively became the hardest and/or scariest thing I had ever done. It was a month entirely out of my comfort zone. If nothing else, I’ve become a little more confident in myself and had some great experiences that I never would’ve had if I’d stayed home.
My other big take-away is the insignificance of my actions as an individual, temporary volunteer. Volunteering doesn’t always make you feel warm and fuzzy. Sometimes, being a volunteer is nothing more than changing a diaper so that someone who is busier and more knowledgeable can use her time better. Sometimes, the best you can do is make things a little easier for the people doing the real work.