Over a three-way phone conference they asked me what my special skill was? I fumbled for an answer as I didn’t think “bull-shitter” was an applicable volunteer attribute.
They seemed a little surprised I could not produce one viable skill that I might be able to transfer to another human being. I suggested “being awesome”?, this seemed to need a less vague description for a presentable letterhead.
Let’s jump back a bit here. A little less than a year ago my x-girlfriend sent me an application for something to do with people who drive around the planet and volunteering opportunities. I filled in the blanks about having a blog, free time and some skills I never thought anyone would actually ask me to use. Well turns out I “won”? and now I was sent a nice congratulations email and some follow up questions about my route through the Americas, when I could meet up with some volunteer groups and what it was I planned to offer them.
Well the day finally came to meet an organisation and after what seemed a bottomless number of delays I finally arrived in the town of Baños, Ecuador. I had previously been in the Amazon for a week without internet so my arrival was a bit unannounced however I was welcome with open arms. The afterschool center where I had arrived was basically a melting pot of artistic creation to stimulate the minds of the local youth. The exterior of the building a sketch book of various artists placing colored stone to mimic paintings, globes and art of the world. The inside consisted of a large library with bean-bag chairs, the back a play area, upstairs a clothing market and there was even a full blown theater on site. Wow, an incredible place to develop ones artistic talents.
So what are you brining to the table?
After being pressed for information during our conference call it was finally reviled that I might have a knack for food and it was decided I would spend the week teaching children to cook fun food that is simple and healthy. I failed to mention kids, Spanish and teaching, were perhaps not my top three strength areas. All in all I put together a plan and decided we would make pizza from healthy ingredients. Then if time permitted, roasted chocolate bananas that were refined sugar free.
I had worked out the details in Colombia and it all sounded great, once crossing into Ecuador however my whole plan of simplicity fell apart. I discovered Ecuador didn’t sell tortillas on ever corner like Colombia and I had just acquired two pounds of fresh cacao from the Amazon that I opted to use rather then buying chocolate that would add to the complexity.
*Insert a change of plans and four hours a day of hand making tortillas and hand making chocolate with no more tools then a mortar and pestle***
Let’s jump right in
I had entirely forgotten how versatile kids were and that you are basically there best friend if you want to listen to them read or play their game. This was great, on day one I sat in a chair in the library pretending I had any idea what the words in my Spanish children’s book said. Within minutes this one young man strolled over, introduced himself and preceded to read me one book in Spanish and another in English.
This was great, easiest time I’ve had making friends yet. For the week to come I was his go-to guy for all things readable and he was my go-to guy for fitting in around the after school center. Not winning any popularity contents, however I’m part of the inner circle.
For the next day I’m expected to have my cooking class ready to go and the first round of six kids are lined up with the promise of pizza hitting the table by the time our hour is up. You want people to attend your class? Easy just give them pizza, works every time.
Chocolate, everyone’s best friend.
I had never mentioned that I would be giving each eight-year-old a knife and telling them to get chopping, so I enlisted another volunteer to help keep an eye on things and at the very least there would be two of us splitting the blame if any fingers went missing.
Each group had there own little mix of talents and personalities, one kids Mum was a chef and she seemed all to happy to dice things perfectly with a knife. It appeared another kids Dad must have been a seal hunter as he smashed his tomato to a chunky mess. What a funny mix of preforming the exact same task.
To keep it simple we made a fresh tomato sauce with herbs and the toppings were a choice of peppers, cheese and avocado. Some kids pizza look like a real pizza from a restaurant, some kids looked like an all you can eat cheese and veggie buffet, some kids looked like they closed their eyes and just threw things in the area of where I pizza might be, hilarious.
For the last day I had a little surprise, the chocolate bananas. We opted not to tell the kids in case the pizzas took the whole week to cycle everyone through. This actually worked better than I thought, as I had an idea in one of the endless hours of helmet time on the motorbike. The idea was you could write a kids name on his banana with a knife, then when it’s cooking that name with cook through like a black light pen. Slice one banana, insert a tablespoon of organic hand made chocolate from the Amazon (no one cares about the efforts and health benefits but me) and bake in the oven for ten minutes. What do you have… chocolate banana heaven with your name personalised on the side.
Movies, reading, cooking, bbq’s, jump-rope, and some really great hosts. Along with all of this I think the most memorable moment I will never forget… Once the pizzas were finished cooking and each kid had the opportunity to sit and enjoy their creation almost all of them would only eat half of a little six inch pizza. I was terribly concerned at first as to why they never ate the whole pizza.
“Do you not like the pizza?” No.
“Are you to full to finish it?” No.
“Is there something wrong with the pizza?” No.
“Sir can we have a little bag to take the other half of our pizza home to share with are family?”
Ohh my god I almost died, anyone with real human emotions would have melted on the spot.
In the end I’m never to sure if I was teaching them or they were teaching me.
If you are at all interested in volunteering throughout the world with your travels, this is an authentic experience that is guaranteed to enhance your travels and your life. To get in contact with the organisation I deal with please contact.
Subsequently if you are in Ecuador it is wonderful place volunteer, catch a movie or live theater performance, buy some quality donated goods, or just go and have a chat with Karl.
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