Megan Ramirez | Vernon Hill, IL – Special Education and Child Studies, 2017
Megan is a junior studying Special Education and Child Studies, and is from Vernon Hills, Illinois. This summer, Megan will serve in Quito with the Vanderbilt University Office of Active Citizenship & Service Ecuador Project. Megan will have the opportunity to be part of the community partners’ wonderful work with children and adults with disabilities.
Blog Post One: May 19th, 2016
I’m going to start this blog off by saying that it’s my first, and I’m really nervous about sharing my thoughts in this format. I’ll do my best to be as open and honest about my feelings and thoughts as possible. I might jump from topic to topic because that’s just how I think.
This week has been tiring, stressful, exciting, and wonderful all at the same time.
A question I’ve been asked by friends back home, college friends, OACS staff, site leaders, Camp Hope volunteers and staff, and my home stay family is, “Why Ecuador?” I guess I’ll start there.
I’ve always enjoyed service and sought out ways to be involved in my community. I was the kind of first year student who looked at all the clubs on Anchorlink before school even started. Being interested in service, I ended up on the Office of Active Citizenship and Service (OACS) website.
I read on the OACS websites about the Ecuador Global Service Project. OACS offers four 4-6 week long service-learning trips to four places: Ecuador, England, South Africa, and Morroco. After the initial spark of interest from the idea of a service-learning trip, I focused on Ecuador. I think I saw the words “people with disabilities,” “Spanish,” and “financial aid” and was 80% sold right then.
I looked up more information about the OACS service-learning program, Yanapuma, and Camp Hope (one of many projects that make up Yanapuma), and the comprehensive services Camp Hope provides just blew me away. I’ll write more about that later.
I’m majoring in special education and child studies. I’m specifically working towards being certified to teach students with multiple and severe disabilities. I absolutely love working with people with disabilities in any and every role and setting, so the opportunity to do so for a month in Ecuador sounded great. I’d go on about working with people with disabilities, but then this post would never end. I purposefully didn’t look at the blogs from last year’s cohort members, so this might already be too long – oops!
I also absolutely love the Spanish language. I’m Puerto Rican, but I didn’t grow up speaking Spanish. I have some relatives who only speak Spanish, so I took classes from seventh to twelfth grade. I also lived in McTyeire International House, one of Vandy’s living learning communities, these past two years to learn more about different cultures and improve my Spanish speaking ability.
Above is the long answer to the question, “Why Ecuador?” Due to time and situations in which this question is asked, I typically answer with a sentence or two about special education, kids with disabilities, service, Spanish, and culture.
Blog Post Two: May 27th, 2016
It’s the end of my second week at Camp Hope. I love how I’ve gotten to know the students, staff, occupational therapist practicum students and other volunteers even more. I look forward to getting to know them all better in the next two weeks.
Camp Hope is a wonderful organization for children, teens and young adults with disabilities. It is a school that provides typical educational activities, sensory integration activities, independent living activities and vocational activities to students with disabilities. It also provides speech therapy, occupational therapy, and hippotherapy.
While many of the students go home to their families at the end of the day, many live at Casa Hogar. These students are orphans. Many are temporarily or permanently separated from their families due to issues such as abuse or negligence at home. You can’t tell a student’s situation based on looking at them, and the students who live at Casa Hogar are never treated any differently than the other students. This is not always the case, so I’m glad that Camp Hope runs the way it does and is connected to Casa Hogar.
Two of the many amazing people I’ve met are the head of Camp Hope and the head of Casa Hogar. One has been working her for 26 years and the other for 22 years.
Now, I’ll tell you a bit about what I do and see at Camp Hope. As is the case in any school with students with severe disabilities, a lot of the school day is spent feeding the students snack and lunch and toileting at least twice a day. There is nothing good or bad about this. It’s just how it is. The time feeding and toileting takes does depend on the number of volunteers we have each day. In the class I volunteer in, there is typically the teacher, 1-3 occupational therapy practicum students, and 1 high school volunteer. Considering that there are 10 students in my class and this is a nonprofit, this ratio is pretty amazing. If we have less volunteers, feeding and toileting takes more time. The teacher I work with has mentioned that there are days when it’s just her. That is incredibly physically and mentally draining. She is such an amazing teacher, and I’m so glad the students in PC1 have her.
I’ve learned a lot about physical therapy for students with cerebral palsy (CP). Besides the above, a lot of my time is spent working individually with the students on different exercises. I have an idea of something I want to do/makes to have a longer term impact than this month with the kids. I’ll tell you about more next week if it works out.
I promise to talk more about culture next week!
Have a great weekend everyone.
Blog Post Three: June 2nd, 2016
I try to always be aware of my privilege and realize that it does affect my beliefs and actions.
Let’s talk a bit about culture. I’ve only been here for three weeks, so what I write is based on the little that I’ve observed and been told.
There is racism and discrimination in Ecuador. It is especially directed at the indigenous peoples. As is many countries, a lighter skin color is considered better than a darker skin color. There is a large percentage of mestizo people people in Ecuador, especially in Quito and other large cities. Mestizo people tend to have lighter skin while indigenous people tend to have darker skin. One person told me that she and many people she knows have been told by parents and/or grandparents to marry someone with the same skin color or lighter skin color.
However, education is mandatory and free for all kids. There is not a lot of inclusion of people with disabilities at the moment, but there is improvement in this area. The past Vice President of Ecuador is a person with paraplegia and he’s done a lot in terms of accessibility. For example, wheelchair ramps are a common sight now. He also pushed for a law requiring Ecuadorian companies to set aside 4% of jobs for people with disabilities. He also increased the government’s funding of programs for people with disabilities.
Our first weekend, we visited Misahualli and the Sinchi Warmi Center. Sinchi warmi means “strong woman” in Kichwa, one of several indigenous languages in Ecuador. We learned about different plants and how they are used as food, materials for traditional crafts, or medicines. In the museum, we learned about traditional clothing, different boats, and animal traps. We also learned about the meaning of some symbols. For example, the large symbol in the middle of the picture below depicts a woman working with a child on her back. The idea here is that mothers did and still do often carry their young children on their backs so that they can continue to work.
I was asked to write a bit about my own power and privilege as a Vanderbilt student and U.S. citizen.
Yes, there is no doubt that I have a lot of privilege. As a lower middle class Latina, I tend not to think a lot about my own privilege. However, my English is a privilege. My education at a great university is also a privilege. The opportunities my English fluency and education provide me are privileges both in the U.S. and in Ecuador. I try to always be aware of my privilege and realize that it does affect my beliefs and actions.
Blog Post Four:
Sorry my last blog post is so late. I really had no idea what to write when I got back two weeks ago. I still don’t feel I have the words to describe what it meant to me to get to know the staff and students at Camp Hope, the volunteer coordinator from Yanapuma, the members of my cohort, the two site leaders, and all the people we met on our weekend travels.
I’m a pretty awkward and shy person at times, but I love interacting with people. I love talking to people of a variety of ages, cultures, religions, abilities, races, ethnicities, etc. about anything and everything. It’s always amazing to me to hear about experiences and beliefs that are similar or different than my own. I treasure the conversations I had and relationships I had the chance to build with several students and staff members at Camp Hope.
One of my goals for this trip was to leave something tangible behind. I’m happy to say that I was able to do this. With knowledge from my special education classes and previous experiences working with people with disabilities, I know a bit about making communication boards. Every communication board is completely unique because it is made to fit the needs and abilities of an individual student. It can either augment communication or serve as an alternative mode of communication. I love talking about communication (how can you have a high quality of life without a reliable more of communication with a vast vocabulary?), so let me know if anyone has any questions or just wants to talk about the different options out there 😃
A teacher and I worked together to make some communication boards for her students. I asked her questions such as, “What PCS (picture exchange symbols) do you think (student’s name) needs?,” “How many PCS do you want on each page?,” “What size should the PCS be?” “Do you think line drawings or photos would be more effective for (student’s name)?,” “What reinforcers do you use with (student’s name)?,” “I’ve heard people use carro and auto to refer to a car – which do you prefer I put on a PCS?” etc.
It took over a week and many trips to the printer’s, but we ended up with hundreds of PCS and several boards. I would go to the store after service to print in color and then laminate the pages. Then, I’d go back to the homestay and do a lot of cutting and velcroing. I’d bring all the cards to Camp Hope the next day, and then we’d talk about ideas for new cards, ways to make cards clearer, etc.
Note: I didn’t change anyone’s life. I just did the little I could to be useful.
A huge thanks to the wonderful people at Yanapuma and Camp Hope for giving us the change to work with your amazing staff and students. A huge thanks to OACS for creating this program and providing financial aid. Lastly, a huge thanks to the Nichols Humanitarian Fund for providing financial aid. Without OACS and the NHF, this would not have financially possible for me. ¡Mil gracias!