Caroline D’Souza said she learned the true meaning of charity during her mission trip to Quito, Ecuador. Photo by Lovina D’Souza

Travelling with a purpose

By  Caroline D’Souza, Youth Speak News Special
  • July 17, 2015

I have known for a long time that I wanted to go on a mission trip.

Attending Catholic schools and going to Mass every weekend, I have always been taught about the importance of charity. For the longest time I thought charity meant simply giving to the less fortunate. However, in Grade 7, I got involved with Me to We and Free the Children which changed my understanding of what charity really meant.

Yes, we can donate money to the poor and yes, it may help them out momentarily, but what happens to that person and their family when that money runs out? This is what Free the Children tries to overcome through its projects.

Sustainability and community ownership is the goal of Free the Children’s Adopt a Village projects. These provide resources, opportunities and connections for community members to lead their own development and lift themselves out of poverty.

Eager to become more involved with this charity, travel the world and make a difference in people’s lives, my friend Julia and I signed up for a Me to We/Free the Children volunteer trip to the Amazon Rainforest. Students from all over Canada and the United States met up forming a group of 27 volunteers and two co-ordinators from Me to We. None of us knew each other, but we shared one thing in common: we were about to take off on a journey of a lifetime.

Our destination was Quito, Ecuador, the highest official capital city in the world at 9,350 feet above sea level. Fighting through the altitude sickness, we spent a day exploring the city and its rich history and conducted numerous mind-blowing experiments at the equator.

Our home away from home was Minga Lodge where we slept in bunk beds that came with bug nets attached. It was a short hike away from the community we would be working in. We later learned that “Minga” means everyone in the community working together toward a shared goal.

I was blown away by the natural beauty of the rainforest. Being surrounded by trees of various shapes and sizes, vines coming from all directions, numerous species of flowers and the most stunning sunset view I have ever seen in my life had me wanting to join an Amazonian tribe and stay in the rainforest forever.

We soon found out that we would be working to build a health clinic along with the members of the Mondana community. At present if any community member is sick or needs medical assistance, they go to the doctor’s house for medical care. Prior to our arrival, the foundation and floor of the clinic had been laid, so our job was to get started on the walls.

Over the next 10 days, we carried more than 3,000 cinder blocks from the bank of the river to the build site, filled sand bags from other islands and brought it back to Mondana by canoe to make cement for the walls, dug trenches for the heavy rainfall to flow into the river and carried in material for the roof of the clinic. On completion, this health clinic will have a maternity ward, dentistry section and pharmacy.

There was a school next to our build site where we would go and play with the children during their recess. For me, this was one of the most rewarding parts of the trip. Despite our language barrier, everyone was always smiling and having a blast playing soccer, dancing, skipping or blowing bubbles.

We were able to catch a glimpse of what life is like for the locals in Mondana and another community which Free the Children has begun working in called Bellavista. We visited various farms including coffee and cocoa farms and even learned to make chocolate from roasted cocoa beans.

Another exciting visit we made was to a Shaman’s home. A Shaman is a priest-like individual who is a spiritual and healing leader with a great understanding of nature. After being welcomed by the Shaman, we tested our aim with some handmade hunting weaponry.

We also got to visit a women’s group where the women from Mondana work to make jewellery and other items using natural fibres and seeds from plants, selling them to support their families.

And of course, being in the jungle we went on a night hike as well as a day hike, viewing 10 different species of frogs, a cayman, a toucan, owls, monkeys and several insects including tarantulas. It was incredible to see the things that provided us with the natural “jungle music” that lulled us to sleep each night.

The days flew by in the blink of an eye, and before we knew it, two weeks had passed and we were boarding our plane back to Toronto. We headed home with unforgettable experiences, memories of a lifetime, new friendships and a better understanding of our global community.

This trip would not have been possible without the support of my family, friends and church community whom I would like to thank profoundly. I had the most amazing experience on this volunteer trip and I would encourage everyone to try and make a trip like this where not only will you be changing the lives of others, but your life is sure to change as well.

(D’Souza, 18, was a member of the YSN 2012-2013 team. She is a first-year student at Brescia University College in London, Ont.)

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