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Our volunteers have made it through their first week in community! Despite week one being the hardest in terms of adjusting to the culture, language, food, and climate, I am so proud of all of my volunteers for maintaining positive attitudes and fully engaging with their communities throughout the week. They are meeting local youth to involve in the project, learning phrases in Kichwa, going to sleep at 8pm to wake up at 6am, and eating LOTS of potatoes.

The theme of week one was “getting to know your community”, and my volunteers did an amazing job of exploring, asking questions, and trying things they would never have the opportunity to do at home.

In San José de Atillo, Chelsea and Clara spent hours with their host mom hiking up mountains (or riding the burro) to learn how to milk the cows (but probably not all 70 of them), feeding the many cuy (guinea pig) and rabbits that their host family eats and sells for community events, as well as befriending the family’s pig, Chancha.

In Reten Ichupamba, Ella, Margo, and PJ took advantage of an end of school year celebration with the community to decide on their community project, which will be a knitting business! On my visit to Reten I got to judge a dance competition for the first and second graders, eat cuy with Ella and her host family, and enjoy the night sky, free of light pollution and smog!

In Pancun Ichupamba, Skyler, Karolen, and Yarlicia are getting to know their very small community and slowly figuring out how everyone is related to one another. They enjoy lots of fresh strawberries and jugo de fresa that comes directly from the plot of strawberries that Skyler’s host mom, Blanca, tends to everyday, often with the help of all three volunteers.

In the last community on my route, Sanancahuán Alto, Sam, Leo, and I tended to the cows that their host family brings to the feria in Guamote every week. Sam and Leo will have plenty of opportunities to visit this feria with their family and explore the endless rows of fruit stands, admire the local artesanía, and wander among the goats, pigs, cows, and sheep that roam the streets. On my day in Sanancahuán, we also got the chance to make dozens of empanadas and play lots of games with their energetic 8-year old host brother, Elias. It was a long week, but it was filled with personal successes (speaking Spanish in front of a crowd! hiking to the top of the mountain for the best views! remembering people’s names!), many laughs, and of course, beautiful views.

The first week in community can be frustrating and exhausting, but my volunteers are handling everything gracefully and with smiles on their faces! They are missing their families, hot showers, and pizza, but have solid support networks in their partnerships and in their community members and host families, who are taking them in with so much warmth and excitement.

There is a lot to look forward to! Friday, July 12, will be our first youth encuentro, where volunteers will come together in routes, accompanied by a few youth from their communities to share their ideas for their projects! Volunteers will be working with these youth this coming week to finalize action plans for their projects and work out final details, and after that, projects will be set in motion and the rest of the summer will fly by!