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Fe y Alegría Ambato:

 Voluntary Work in an Ecuadorian School

  • By Félix

Hi, my name is Felix, I´m 26 years old, a studied physicis. I am doing voluntary work in a school in Ambato, Ecuador, since 7 months. 

My voluntary work is made possible through the “weltwärts” program of the BMZ (German ministry for economic cooperation and development) and is conducted through Open Door International e.V. (ODI), from the German side, and through FIIDES, from the Ecuadorian side. For me the voluntary work in a foreign country means a great opportunity, because it is a unique chance to experience the life in a different country and culture, experience similarities and differences, get a more profound view on global topics such as education, distribution of wealth, sustainability, among other topics; as well as learn a new language, find new friends and many more. 

I’m very thankful that the German State as well as the organizations ODI and FIIDES make this experience possible through their daily work and dedication. I see my year in Ecuador as a great privilege. 

As the title suggests, I am working in a school in Ambato which is run by the “Fe y Alegría” foundation, which is a union of local organizations that offer education for people from poorer sectors of society. Fe y Alegría is a global movement that works in almost the entirety of South and Central America, parts of Africa, as well as Spain and Italy. 

The school in Ambato offers education from first to tenth grade, meaning children from roughly 5 to 15 years old. The days are split in two parts: in the mornings the children from 1-7th grade receive education, in the afternoon the grades 8-10th due to the available space. I chose to work primarily with the younger children in the morning. My work in the school covers different tasks: Mainly I am accompanying the English teacher in his classes. I support him doing the activities in the classes, respond to questions from the children and make sure the children are doing the tasks. More than this I am also accompanying some physical education classes, where I can bring in for example games I played in my own classes in Germany, that here are not widely known which mostly has a very positive response from the children. In other cases if there is some personal emergency and a teacher has to leave the school, I take care of the children, which then results in the necessity of spontaneity, doing some activity or giving some short class about some topic until the end of the classes. 

So far I have had a good time in the school, the colleagues have received me very well, and I already have made very nice experiences. For example, with the smallest children in the first grade I taught them to salute “Hello” and to say “Goodbye” in English. To do so I made a game, where I would leave the classroom and say “Goodbye” and the children had to correspond accordingly. Then I would reenter the classroom and say “Hello”. I made this various times and now a lot of times, if any person enters the room all the children shout “Hello” and “Goodbye” which made a lot of colleagues and me laugh. Another example is an Anti-Violence-Day we had, where the first-graders and some teachers dressed up as superheroes and there were stands with information and games to inform about the different forms of violence. On this occasion I had the opportunity to play some songs on the piano and the drums with a colleague in front of all the parents, children and authorities of the school which was a cool experience. We also had some football tournaments, where every grade was playing as some country that participated in the world cup. For that we visited schools in the surroundings of Ambato as well as received children from other schools in our school. There was also a professor´s team where we played against the professors from the other schools. 

Being in a country that far away from Germany, of course I compare my experiences here with my experiences in Germany. First of all, I think the children are very similar in both countries. They play the same games in the school breaks, act in the same manner, have the same conflicts and learn similar things. However, there are things that for me as a German were surprising in the beginning. Here, for example, it is common that the pupils give hugs to the teachers or share their food with them. In Germany the relation between teacher and pupil is more distanced. Another thing is the punctuality. Here the classes sometimes start punctually, sometimes 2 minutes late, sometimes 20 minutes late. It seems to me less organized and strict. 

The by far biggest difference is the equipment of the school. In Germany, I went to a normal public school, there we had in all the classrooms very big blackboards, Over-Head-projectors, audio players and school books for every school subject. In contrast, here there aren’t even school books for English (for other subjects they do have school books). In my opinion this makes the classes much more difficult to design, limits the amount of possible activities and makes the classes slower as well. 

Another difference is that here, often times, the quality of the education is correlated with the price of the institution. The public schools are for free like in Germany, however the private schools cost around 200$ per month. These private schools have more material and a higher education standard. 200$ is a lot of money compared to the general income of an Ecuadorian family. Therefore, there exists more social inequality. The wealthy people can buy themselves an education of high quality, whereas the poorer people cannot. That´s why it is much harder here to get a well-paid job, when you come from a public school, than it is in Germany. There, exist a lot of opportunities to have success and it doesn´t depend on that much if you come from a wealthier family or not. This difference makes me feel disappointed because then, many times, the achievable success not depends on your own work but on your initial conditions. 

So, what do I take from my time here in Ecuador working in a local school? First of all, I have a good time teaching with the other professors, working with the children is fun, so I have a lot of memories that I won’t forget for the rest of my life. More than this, it is very interesting and challenging at the same time seeing how the education is done in another country. As I said before, in this school the possibilities are much more limited than what I experienced in my own school life, and here I can see how the pupils, teachers and parents cope with this situation. This definitely gives me another perspective on my own education and makes me appreciate even more the chances I’ve had in my own life so far in Germany. 

I want to end this letter by thanking all of my family, colleagues and friends here in Ecuador, who have received me so well and with so much hospitality, they are a big reason that I have a nice experience here in this foreign country.

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