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First Ever International Tikun Olam Trip

First Ever International Tikun Olam Trip

Nicole Trotta, Director of MUS Student Life

Over winter break, 6 high school students embarked upon a Service Learning Tikkun Olam adventure in Ecuador. The trip was facilitated by Unearthed, an educational travel-based company, that runs challenging, overseas adventures for young people that help shape who they become. Unearthed programs are carefully designed to inspire young people with experiential learning opportunities to explore local communities through cultural immersion, sustainable community project work, and curriculum aimed activities. The students spent 8 days over their winter break, traveling to a small village north of Quito, known as San Juan de Iluman.  Iluman is an indigenous village, located in the Andes, and is known for Shamanism, as well as fabric and wool production.

Trip Highlights:

        Our homestay in Iluman.  Belen, our homestay host, welcomed us into her home and her family for 5 days.  While we stayed there, we were served home cooked meals, using locally and organically grown food, for every meal.  We learned about local indigenous traditions, holidays, and the ins and outs of the Iluman village.

        Cultural immersion and interfaith exchange took place throughout the week, especially on Christmas day, where Belen and Jenny, our in-county host and guide, not only welcomed us, but included and educated us on their holiday traditions.  Belen hosted over 60 people Christmas day, include 30 local children (many of whom attend the local school we renovated). Throughout the afternoon, we were full immersed in helping serve food, playing and engaging with the local children, and celebrating the local cultural traditions.

      Año Viejo! In addition to learning about and participating in Ecuadorian Christmas traditions, we also had the opportunity to celebrate New Year’s Eve, the way many Latin American countries do. In Ecuador, Año Viejo is a fiery tradition that symbolically burns up the failures, regrets and anger of the old year in order to usher in the hopes and resolutions of the new one. For this, we created a life sized doll/effigy with old clothes and rags, stuff this doll with a list of things we wanted to let go of form 2019 and our wishes for 2020.  We then went into the dirt roads of Iluman, lit the doll on fire, and danced around the fire for hours, filled with laughter, joy, and gratitude.

      Service project at the local elementary school. Our main reason for visiting the village of Iluman, was to help renovate a local elementary school, to help improve the quality of life and education of the children of Iluman. We spent countless hours over the 5 days completely gutting renovating a classroom, as well as working and restoring the playground and entry way.  This was by far the most impactful and eye opening experience of the entire trip.

      Students were able to spend a few hours at Otavalo Market, one of the largest open air markets in South America. Here, they were able to wander the rows of traditional cultural market, where local villagers trade their goods as they have down for centuries.  Students had the opportunity to do some market shopping and take traditional Quechua gifts home for themselves and their families.

       On our way to the city of Quito, we stopped at the Mitad del Mundo “center of the world” to visit the Equator line, as it passes through South America.

       Gondola ride along the eastern slope of the Pichincha Volcano, in up 13,000+ feet elevation.  Up here we had a spectacular view of the city of Quito.

       Walking tour of Quito, spending some time exploring the capital and its well-preserved colonial center rich with history.

– The students visited teh house of Trude Sojka, a Holocaust survivor who fled to Ecuador.

“The experience was uplifting and inspiring how Trude Sojka used art as a sanctuary as well as a form of expression. I was not expecting to learn about Holocaust survivors that found a safe haven in Ecuador but the experience shed light on a place where many people had an opportunity for a fresh start. Trude was an incredible talented artist whose style and form evolved over time to reflect different periods of her life. We were able to explore Trude’s house as well as met her daughter and granddaughter. Her granddaughter, who is also an artist, has traveled the world finding her ancestry through nature and art. We roamed the garden, which housed Trude’s beautiful statues created by recycled material, and learned about Trude’s life as well as her husband’s life and how he escaped to Ecuador”. – Rebecca Mannor

Please enjoy the slide show!


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