Audrey is among the first cohort of AMIGOS gap participants in Ecuador. Permanent staff and AMIGOS participants throughout the year increase project sustainability and build stronger relationships in local communities.
“You need to speak slowly to Audrey please, she is not stupid, only learning Spanish. We are very proud of her.”
This note, scribbled in Spanish, was given to me by my host father after my first day of work. I had arrived to his house in tears, frustrated that I could not understand my boss. Milton Serrano had dropped everything to help me, writing a note for me to give to mi jefe. For the first time, I felt the ‘father’ part of my host family.
My dad is one of the most important people in my life. From him I get my height, my stubbornness, and my sweet tooth. He taught me how to ride a bike, cook creme brulee, and use a chainsaw by the time I was 9 years old. He has always given me rides home no matter how late. When I was young, he would play fairy tea party with me, braid my hair, pack my lunches, and he walked me home from school every day. Upon deciding to move to Ecuador and live with a host family, I knew that my host father would have big shoes to fill (size 13, in fact), and I was nervous that my standards would be too high. The idea of calling anyone else “papa” made me cringe, and I figured that an assigned father would pale in comparison to my real one.
However on the first day, I was pleasantly surprised to find that, in room full of host mothers, Milton Serrano had come to pick me up. Standing just below my collarbone at 5’5, he insisted on riding the bus with me every day to school so that I would not get lost, and riding the bus to accompany me back. He explained to me, slowly and with the aid of a battered English dictionary, not to go home with strangers and not to cross the street when there is traffic. I later found out that he (a carpenter by trade) had hand-built my bed specifically to be long enough for me, something that my father (also a carpenter) had done for me at home. And when I stayed late at a concert, he was there to pick me up on the curb, my real father’s voice echoing “always call for a ride” in my head.
Nobody could ever replace my dad, but I am realizing that nobody has to. The families that I find in my life can have more than 4 people, all playing different roles. With the odd, adorable bonding of Milton Serrano, I am learning that nobody needs to “replace” anybody, that I only need to make room in my heart for more families. My host dad rushed to help me on my first day of work, wanting to solve my problems just as my real dad would. As their similarities pile up, I am accepting a new family, and all because of a short Ecuadorian man in a blue fleece onesie.
Amigos de las Americas now has a year-round presence in Ecuador with our Gap Program, Summer Program, and Youth Ambassadors exchange. Permanent staff based in Cuenca, Ecuador maximize the impact of our participants and work with partner agencies to increase project sustainability and continuity. Establishing strong local partnerships with trusted organizations allows AMIGOS to contribute to community projects identified by local citizens, and ensures these projects will be maintained and built upon throughout the years.