Daniel Hernandez, 17 | Alumni Ambassador 2018-2019 | High School of Economics and Finance, New York, NY | Riobamba, Ecuador

It was six in the morning in Ecuador, en route to an indigenous farming community by the name of Guamote. On this remarkable bus ride, I glanced off into Ecuador’s prideful and colorful culture, full of diversity and astonishing scenery. I thought about the days before this one, where I explored the fascinating sites of Riobamba. The cities and their vibrant lights with individuals willing to share their daily lives and rich history. Where I toured cultural heaven lands of Pre-Inca tribes 3,500 meters high in vast mountainous areas. The faces of my students who I had spent an entire week teaching English and the impact they left on me. Suddenly, as the bus came to a halt I was awakened from my self-reflection and arrived at my destination to meet Juanita. This encounter led to my new perspective of the world around me.

On this trip, I would further immerse myself in the daily demands that men, women and even young children must work extremely hard to meet. When I encountered Juanita, her eyes sparkled, the corner of her eyes crinkled, and her mouth smiled broadly. As we approached her house, I was astonished to see this block of crumbled concrete with some parts covered in mold; this is what she considered home. Buzzing sounds coming from flies, surrounding every inch of her home. A sink and toilet with no running water. I could not help but cringe at the sight until I saw Juanita beam with pride and excitement as she was giving us a tour.

My task was to help Juanita carry rocks up and down a hill to build a pig enclosure. During my experience, I realized that carrying rocks was not as easy as it seemed. The high altitude and the steep and slippery climb made this task grueling. However, children younger and much smaller than me were able to complete this chore barefoot, with ease and without protest. I could hardly comprehend the blood, sweat, and tears Juanita put into the task over the years. I wanted to sit down and give up, especially after getting a few splinters. Maybe I wanted to give up simply because I’ve lived a life enjoying certain comforts that are not nearly as accessible to others. I’ve never experienced this type of hard labor which is essential for the natives of Guamote to persevere.  I look back at the time I spent with Juanita and how she embraced that rock, refusing to surrender because she remembered the purpose of her labor.  This was the driving force which motivated me to conquer my exhaustion and encourage others to do the same.

This experience made me realize that youth worldwide are the motivating force for change, and with change comes endless opportunities. Working with Juanita, I saw and felt how life can be when you’re living outside of the comforts of American society; how others must work twice as hard to meet their necessities. I went from being in a community with buildings and suburban houses to farmland where despite the hard labor, I felt a sense of accomplishment and happiness. Meeting and spending a day with Juanita was a gift, a token that I will always have in my heart. I departed Ecuador with an immense appreciation for all my blessings and an eagerness to travel the world to serve others.

I now reflect on how my actions inspire others to dream, learn and be involved, as Juanita did for me. I have the compassion, confidence, courage, and commitment to immerse myself in the world and give back by paying it forward.

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