For eleven short weeks in 2023, I had the incredible opportunity and honor to serve as Tandana’s Environmental and Horticultural Intern. I’m a third-year student at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where there is a wonderful co-operative education program which allows students to explore career paths and build real-world skills through work-study trimesters.
I decided to join Tandana’s team in hopes of strengthening my Spanish skills, learning about agriculture in a different climate, working with children, and immersing myself in a new culture. All of these desires were fulfilled with great joy. The nerves that came with my first time in a new country were soothed right away by the warm welcome I received from Veronica at the airport, and shortly after when I met my absolutely lovely host family, who have truly become a second family to me.
My first two weeks were dedicated to getting acquainted with the area and the foundation, thanks to the support of Gaetan, Tandana’s Ecuador Program Manager. During this time, the Ecuador team also finalized preparations for my first volunteer group, the Ohio Master Gardeners. It was great to connect with these lovely women from my home state, through gardening and getting to know this beautiful country that was still quite new to me. We worked hard in various community gardens by morning, and explored, learned, and played by afternoon.
By week four, I was finally ready to start my regular routine. This consisted of visiting three schools within the parish of Quichinche, as well as the subcentro de salud (health center) right down the street from my house. At the health center, I planted some beets and did lots of weeding. I helped to clean up the weeds in the vegetable garden and made space for the beautiful plants lining the entrance of the building.
Saminay: El Legado (The Legacy) is a rural high school with an agricultural focus. They have a large field of gardens that supplement school lunches, as well as cows, milking and cheese making facilities, horses, sheep, and to my great pleasure, honeybees! During my time at Saminay, I helped the classes of students in their various projects in the land. I also had the lovely opportunity to create my own legacy at Saminay, and decided to focus on the bees. We cleared a large plot of land to plant a wide variety of native flowers for them to feed on, and created a tree trunk hive inspired by the one at Spikenard Honeybee Sanctuary, where I had my first Antioch College work experience.
My second school was an elementary school in the community of Cambugan. Here, I mostly assisted in the classrooms, which was great fun. Activities often included ventures outside, utilizing the diversity of plants on school grounds. We also had fun learning to embroider, paint, collect grass for the guinea pigs, weed, plant blackberry plants gifted by Tandana, play soccer, swing, and form human pyramids.
The third school, La Joya, is located in Otavalo, and provides community and a fun education for young kids with disabilities. Here, they have an adorable and productive tini – tierra de los niños (land of the children). Again, my role here turned out to be mostly classroom support. This was a brand new experience for me, and it was full of hugs and smiles from all. Fridays at La Joya are concluded with school-wide games and dancing, an important reminder of the importance of having fun with life.
Toward the end of my time in Ecuador, I got to help with a second group of volunteers, this time high school seniors from Michigan. We painted murals with students at three Otavalo schools of the same district, and I was the main Spanish-English interpreter for one of the groups. I was nervous about this responsibility, but it turned out to be one of the most fulfilling experiences of my time here. There were moments when I felt stressed about the fact that my students were playing soccer or attempting to converse with the local students instead of working on the mural, until I realized that these intercultural friendships are the very reason that Tandana operates. I felt truly honored and enthralled to be able to foster these moments of joyful interaction, and in the end, our mural was completed with time to spare.
My work with Tandana was incredibly joyful and educational. I am so lucky to have been a part of such a dedicated, supportive, and intelligent team of people, and to have worked with such bright children and caring teachers. Perhaps most of all though, I am grateful to Tandana for connecting me with my loving and fun host family, who welcomed me as a true daughter and sister. We played games, painted, embroidered, prayed, hiked, swam, and laughed together during meals. By far the most difficult part of this experience was saying goodbye, but I know that we will stay in touch, and that I will visit as soon as I get the chance. They taught me that love and friendship transcend language, a message at the very heart of The Tandana Foundation.