Living with a host family is a unique experience and probably the best way to actually get to know the people and their culture. However, there are often challenges to overcome. Although as a volunteer, I was not supposed to pay my host family (my only duty was to teach), I sometimes felt uncomfortable not participating in the financial burden. I tried to make up for this by having a meaningful role in their life and household. I helped with the laundry and dish washing (both by hand, of course), cooking and cleaning the house and also spent long hours with the children, playing, helping with home work, and even sharing the same bed with the three of them during those three months.
I was sad to find out that my host family had no books in their house. After each meeting with the other volunteers in the city, I came back to the village with a book which we would then read for the next few days, over and over again, a few times each night. I knew enough Spanish to be able to read it, but sometimes the kids had to explain to me what the book was actually about and their mother would shout from the kitchen, correcting my pronunciation.
I tried to improve my teaching techniques and make classes more interesting by including as many educational games as I could. Now to issues of discipline: Some of the kids spent time with their parents in the market, where they quickly adopted some of the requisite charming skills. On several occasions, Carmen, my youngest pupil, tried to persuade me to let her only copy three of the five sentences on the board. She would conclude the bargaining by declaring "OK then, I will copy two and go out to play.” I have no idea how this whole reverse psychology thing works- but it does. The older kids, however, seemingly shared my feelings that the work in class was rewarding. I did my best to provide them with positive and encouraging feedback, and almost every weekend, three of my students (who were brothers) brought me some crops their mother sent me- usually corn or radish. Knowing that their parents appreciated my work was a source of motivation for me.
On my last week, the director of the project came to meet the kids. Thankfully, they were able to welcome her, ask her how she was doing, present their names and ages, all in English. I was proud of them; it made me realise how fast children learn and how meaningful our contribution can be to their lives, even in a short period, Before I left, they surprised me with a breakfast to which each family contributed something (popcorn, hot cobs and home-made French fries). It was inspiring to find out how many different things their families could make out of their own crops.
One of the most exciting things in the village was that from my host family's house we could see three different volcanoes, only one of which is active. We often climbed to the roof to see the red lava at night. I had a chance to climb one of the dormant volcanoes with a good friend, and we reached the refuge at five thousand metres. I am grateful for having had this experience. In quite a short time, I felt that I have learned so much about having a simple life and the importance of education. As tourism is becoming one of the main sources of income in Ecuador, I honestly believe that it is important for those kids to learn English. I hope that the basic knowledge that I tried to give them will allow them to develop their English skills in the future so that they might be able to get to know a bit of the world outside their village when they grow up.