Service has begun!!

Before leaving for the service portion of SST this week, students participated in a final activity together, riding the Teleferico (gondola) up to the foothills of Volcan Pichincha that overlooks the entire 40 km length of the city of Quito.  The foothills of the mountain stand at 4,100 meters (13,300 feet).  When you reach the end of the line on the gondola, Pichincha rises ahead of you at a height of 4,784 meters (15,696 feet) which is taller than any mountain in the continental U.S.  Students crisscrossed the paths through the mountain tundra, taking in the views.  A favorite activity was the “columpio en las nubes” (swing in the clouds).  It was a good way to end our time in Quito together, taking in the beautiful view and enjoying the serene environment together after the tumult of the previous week.

Study-Service-Term (SST) has always included a service element.  Service has been an important part of the tradition of Goshen College from its early days and continues to be so.  From the core value of servant leadership, to the GC motto, “culture for service”, service is a part of the culture of GC.  One of the tricky elements of serving others is to move away from the goal-oriented “what have we accomplished” mindset of service to the relationship centered “what ways can we connect with one another” form of service.  Humans across the globe crave meaningful human relationships and the time of “service” on SST provides an opportunity for students to develop unique relationships with people in another part of the globe.

While the Study portion of SST is packed with trips and lectures, the Service portion of SST provides a lot of space to just “be” with people in the host culture.  The students in the Fall 2019 Ecuador group have begun this process of “being” with their service assignment hosts in Manta, Ecuador’s second largest coastal city.  Manta is situated in the central Pacific coastal province of Manabi and is packed tightly up against the Pacific ocean.  It boasts a large commercial fishing industry, one of the largest tuna processing facilities in the world, a commercial port, a cruise ship port, and a number of open air fish markets where local fishermen display the morning’s catch.

Coastal life in Ecuador has a very different feel and flavor from that of life in the Andean highlands.  From the moment we stepped off the plane Wednesday night in Manta, you could sense the difference:  the humid air, the smell of salt water, the sound of sea birds, the flat coastal landscape…..  The Ecuadorian service families were there when we arrived to welcome us with open arms and we were so thankful for their warm embrace.  On Thursday morning students immediately jumped into their service assignments at Unidad Educativa Israel (UEI) and Fundacion Shekinah (FS).  UEI is a Christian school in Manta that serves students pre-k through 12th grade and FS is a home for abused, neglected, and abandoned children.

At UEI students will have the opportunity to assist with English classes, Chemistry labs, Physical Education, and a variety of other activities with students of all ages.  At the Foundation there are countless physical needs to attend to as well as helping with homework and a variety of cleaning and maintenance.  At both the school and the foundation however, relationships are paramount.  How many classes are taught, clothes are washed, and rooms are cleaned are of small consequence in comparison to the relationships developed.  As students progress through these weeks of service with their hosts, it is the relationships that they form that will create lasting memories….