Protests, Civil Discourse, and the Age of Social Media

Needless to say our final week of the Study portion of SST in Ecuador did not unfold in a way any of us could have predicted.  The previous week we had experienced a significant travel disruption in our return to the city as protests of recently passed legislation were initiated.  As new groups of protestors rolled into Quito on Sunday and Monday, schools were canceled as a precautionary measure and we followed suit by canceling our classes as well.  On Tuesday and Wednesday, protests heated up and created a series of challenges in the Historic Center of Quito.  On Thursday and Friday the protests died down and classes resumed for SST’ers.  We were able to finish out our time with our final scheduled speakers who educated us about the medical system in Ecuador.

On Saturday as we prepared to celebrate a farewell dinner with our Ecuadorian host families, protests again heated up, creating a very challenging environment in Quito.  In order to restore order, President Lenin Moreno issued a city-wide curfew stranding a number of the SST’ers at our home (affectionately referred to as “Casa Goshen”).  While we waited for calm to return to the city we shared a meal together, played cards, colored intricate coloring books, and watched the news together.  One of the most unique moments was when we participated in an impromptu banging of pots for peace from our balcony, joining tens of thousands of other Ecuadorians banging pots all throughout the city.

Today (Sunday), an answer to prayer came in the form of rain, hopefully bringing a much needed renewal and cleansing of the city.  Protesting unpopular government decisions is a tradition in Ecuador that has historically served as a means of voicing public dissatisfaction.  The form of these particular protests were different from past protests in their shape and scope.  They have sparked much discussion among Ecuadorians about the most effective avenues for resolving public discourse.  Social media, a medium that has the ability to widely disseminate facts to the public, was unfortunately used this week by some to create confusion and spread misinformation.  It is a reminder to all of us the responsibility we have to tread carefully when using this type of medium to resolve civil discourse.

As for our group, we are thankful for safety, relationships, and the support of all our family and friends in the U.S.  We don’t know how all of this will unfold yet next week in terms of the details of our service assignments, but we have some options open that we are working on with safety as our primary concern.  Stay tuned for what comes next!  We are learning to live day by day in gratitude for the safety, food, and shelter we’ve been blessed with during these difficult times for the country of Ecuador.  Thank you for all your thoughts, prayers, and well wishes this week.  You have been a blessing to each of us.