After my marathon debut I decided to spend my vacation timesomeplace different than normal. I found a company that sponsored volunteer opportunities in foreign countries. I found a country that I felt I wouldn’t travel to normally and one that was Spanish speaking to help improve my Spanish comprehension. The volunteer option I chose was a short teaching stint.
Over the past few weeks I have been living and training in the small town of Otavalo, Ecuador (8500ft). Otavalo is a beautiful town that is situated in the northern Andes. It is surrounded by three major peaks, Imbabura (15,190ft), Cotacachi (16,388 ft), and Mojanda volcanoes.
In many parts of Ecuador elementary all seven, school grades are taught by one or two teachers. For this reason organizations have been pulling to bring more teachers to these rural areas and increase the level of the local children’s education. For my trip, I was assigned to the school of Larcacunga. Larcacunga is a small village situated nearly 11, 000 feet above sea level just east of the town of Otavalo. I taught mostly second grade students but also had a chance to briefly work with the fifth, sixth, and seventh grades on their English.
The students in Larcacunga are all indigenous. They all speak Kichwa as their first language and can speak Spanish as well. Classes were all held in Spanish since Kichwa is not practical for the volunteers to be able to learn in the matter of weeks or months. Needless to say, I co-taught my classes in Spanish. It was difficult to build a report with the children initially, but they were quick to warm up to a new teacher within a few lessons. I had four students in my class, three boys and one girl between 5 and 6 years of age. Lesson plans typically covered basic addition, dexterity drills like coloring and drawing lines, science, weather, and general knowledge material that the Ecuadorian government would test the students on later.
A typical day while I was away started at 4:30 AM. I would wake up to run 70-75 minutes through the town of Otavalo, shower, eat breakfast and head for the bus to 4 Esquinas (corners). I would arrive at 4 Esquinas at 6:50 or 7 AM each day, then walk just over 2 miles up the mountainside to Larcacunga. The school day would start at 8 AM with colada. Colada is a typical breakfast that is somewhat like oatmeal but much more watery. We would then head to class until 1 PM. Three days a week we helped organize soccer practice for the students after school. After classes, I would walk back down the mountain to the bus and catch a ride back into town for a quick snack before lesson planning and meeting a Spanish instructor in Otavalo. I would return home around 6 PM and have dinner at 7 PM. I fell asleep between 8 and 8:30 each night.
While my time in Ecuador was interesting, exciting, and rewarding I am more than excited to get back to training. It was nice to reset my mind and flush everything out after a long season that included a personal best in every distance from the 800 meter to the marathon in less than 12 months. I hope to start another season that is marked by even more profound improvements.