As part of their 90-day Latin American Gap-Year Semester Program, 12 students and 2 Program Leaders from ARCC (Adventures Cross-Country) spent five days in the rural community of Inguincho in highland Ecuador participating in a group service program organized by The Tandana Foundation. The ARCC students worked, learned about community life and made new friends while in Inguincho. Larchmont resident, Hank Alimanestianu, was the local student who took part in this program.
“I learned about ARCC through a consultant as I decided to take a gap year after I graduated from MHS in 2017,” said Alimanestianu. “I chose ARCC’s Latin America program because I wanted to improve my Spanish. My program started in Costa Rica in September 2017 then moved to Peru in October and November. Then onto Ecuador for the last month of the program,” he said.
The group was with Tandana from December 3rd to the 7th, 2017. The ARCC students spent the mornings working at Saminay El Legado (Saminay), a private high school that provides full scholarships to roughly 85 students from the farthest communities in Quichinche Parish. At night, the group camped out in a room on school property.
“I was surprised to observe, that despite the fact that these kids have virtually nothing in regards to material items, they appear to enjoy life more than kids here. I saw this in almost all my experiences with younger kids throughout Ecuador,” explained Alimanestianu.
The ARCC students worked closely with Saminay staff members building a corral for a baby cow. Also, some of the ARCC students taught an English lesson – which they had prepared in advance – to eighth and ninth graders on two different mornings. The ARCC students got to know many local students, from about seven different communities, during their time at Saminay.
In the afternoons, the ARCC students took part in a number of activities designed for deeper cultural and local engagement. They milked and fed cows at Saminay with the help of the school’s groundskeeper, William, and learned how to make cheese at a local family’s cheese-making micro-business.
The ARCC students also visited Saminay students’ homes. At one student’s home, they ate cuy (guinea pig) and learned about traditional indigenous cuisine. The ARCC students caught, killed and prepared fish at another student’s home where trout are bred. Then, everyone enjoyed a family style dinner around the fire.
ARCC provides middle school and high school students with a variety of service learning and adventure opportunities around the world. Their Gap Semester programs give students a cultural and educational bridge between high school and college. ARCC is based in Mill Valley, California.
Alimanetianu enjoyed the experience and will attend Colorado College in September. The college, he added, encourages their accepted students to consider a gap year. “It wasn’t a problem for me. My parents encouraged me to consider it, as my older brother did one, too.”
The Tandana Foundation is a non-profit organization that supports cross-cultural volunteer opportunities, scholarships, and community projects in highland Ecuador and Mali’s Dogon Country. For more information or to sign-up for a volunteer vacation, visit www.tandanafoundation.org.