In Chillogallo, a village of less than 4,000 located in Quito, Ecuador, sickness, alcoholism and hunger prosper.

Children are poorly educated, malnourished and often abused, and parents struggle to make a decent living. Families are forced to live in dirt-covered homes with only one room.

This is the picture University physicians and students were faced with and ultimately motivated by when they arrived in Quito this summer to begin a three-month-long volunteer project.

The Quito Project – led by second-year Medical student Bina Valsangkar – sent 18 University students and two University physicians to Quito, to provide medical treatment, tutor children and construct community facilities.

Valsangkar, who became aware of Quito’s detrimental conditions through her undergraduate volunteer work, founded and instituted the project last year with funds received from University grants, private donations and through fundraising.

From May to August, Quito’s physicians and medical students ran a free health clinic where patients received necessary medical care and medication, as well as vitamins, soap, oral care and clothing. University Spanish undergraduates also tutored local children in math and reading and gave talks on nutrition and dental hygiene.

In addition, University Engineering students – in cooperation with an Ecuadorian engineer – spent the summer building a community shower in Quito, a project costing more than $2,300.

“We make a serious effort to include the community in our projects,” Valsangkar said. “We get to know them, talk to them, they help us with some of the work and most importantly, we try to give them an active role in their own health and education.”

Valsangkar added that often, community members would thank Quito’s participants with the phrase, “Dios le pague,” which when translated in English means “God will pay you.”

“We are working with them – it’s a partnership,” Valsangkar added. “I think the community members sense that because they really appreciate our work.”

University alum and Engineering graduate Heejung Hong, who assisted in the construction of the shower, said she became involved with the Quito Project because of its unique student base. Although she was an Engineering student, Hong said the trip allowed her to learn a great deal more about construction than she expected.

Hong added that members of the community were very helpful to the engineers.

“Because (the shower) was right next to the clinic, (locals) would pass by and we would get to meet them,” Hong said.

“We were reminded of whom we were working for and if we needed a hammer, they would run and get it for us,” she said. “I got to contribute something in a very practical way and when I left, I knew this facility was there for them. It was my reward to know I helped them.”

This year, Valsangkar said she aims to increase the number of participants to about 50, consisting of physicians and medical students as well as students specializing in construction, public, health, pharmacy, tutoring and film and video.

“Our goal is to have enough people in each discipline (of the project),” she said.

In addition to maintaining construction efforts, tutoring and operation of the health clinic, Valsangkar said she hopes next summer’s participants will be able to accomplish Quito’s ever-increasing objectives, such as instituting a girls’ leadership program in community schools, creating a children’s library and establishing medical records for patients.

“We don’t want to just be a band-aid – we want to get to the root of the community’s problems,” Valsangkar said. “We want them to eat better, live in cleaner homes and wipe out the alcoholism.”

LSA junior Lindsey Worcester, who participated as a tutor in the project, said while she initially thought the trip would offer her the opportunity to improve her fluency in Spanish, in the end she learned much more.

“I got to spend more one-on-one time with the children. They are so hardworking and have such a passion for learning, it was really inspiring,” Worcester said. “Because they don’t have the same education opportunities as us, they seem to value it more.”

Worcester added that the children were very patient in dealing with obstacles created by the language barrier.

“I like to think I helped them a little, but I think I learned a lot more from the trip. It really did help open my eyes to our lifestyle here in the states and all the material items we value that are not necessary,” she said.

“I think people go into experiences like this to try and help and impact others,” Worcester said, “but I think I came out of this much more impacted by them.”

 

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