Quito Dream Center“The kids light up when they they finally show you their dreams. It was moving.” – Laurel Lee, short-term volunteer at the Quito Dream Center.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have shortened Laurel Lee’s time helping the kids at the Dream Center, but she still left with heart-felt memories.

The recent Wofford College graduate returned to Ecuador in January to help serve vulnerable people. As a Spanish major Laurel had previously spent time as a foreign exchange student in Quito where she discovered the Dream Center. This time, as an ER short-term volunteer, Laurel served in two ways. She was a teacher’s assistant at ER partner Nuevos Amigos and also helped the kids at the Dream Center with their homework.

Laurel had planned to stay for six months before the pandemic forced her to return home in Florida in late March, followed by 14 days of quarantine.

Her time in Ecuador coincided with the transition of ER’s after-school program to becoming the Quito Dream Center. Among the first tasks was to invite each child to draw a picture to illustrate what they wanted their lives to look like once they were grown up.

“Each child was given a piece of paper. We showed them videos of Ecuadorians overcoming the odds to succeed. The videos showed that when you have a dream, you have to work hard to accomplish it,” Laurel said.

The kids, who are part of the Quito Dump community, were encouraged to dream big, but they struggled. As children of parents who glean recyclables from the trash to make a modest living, they had no experience  dreaming big dreams.

“When they decided, the kids would light up when they finally show you their dreams. It was moving. It took time for the kids to realize you were really interested in their dreams and would support them.

“Right now, many of the children study with their motivation being that they do not want to be recyclers or sell gum in the streets. We want to help change the motivation behind why they study. During our workshops this week, the children focused on their dreams. They want to be anything from veterinarians to YouTube stars.

Quito Dream Center“I know God has big plans for them and I can see the way He is working in their hearts today and preparing them for the future. I believe it is important that the children know their dreams and futures are important to God and the staff at ER believes in them.”

As often happens, one girl in particular grabbed Laurel’s attention – and heart. Olivia* is 11 years old and in 7th grade. Laurel spent a lot of one-on-one time with Olivia helping her study for mid-term exams, quizzing her on her English vocabulary and tutoring her in math.

Quito Dream Center“I really enjoyed helping the kids dream. The children learned about the importance of positive motivation for pursuing their dreams and the importance of hard work. Sharing their dreams with one another helped to push each child outside of the comfort zones. Many struggled to share their dreams, possibly because to them, it seemed impossible.”

Time in Quito Dream Center Well Invested

“Without a doubt, I really enjoyed this experience. I’m a little more comfortable speaking Spanish. You learn so much in a different culture,” Laurel said.

“Ecuadorians are really caring. The parents of the kids showed their gratitude. I felt needed and helpful to people. God’s love and joy are very present in the Dream Center. Even the kids with difficult home lives still were filled with joy.”

What’s next? Laurel said she hopes to pursue a career in Latin America, possibly working with a non-profit organization.

Would you enjoy volunteering in Ecuador, South Africa, the Philippines or seven other countries where ER works? We’d love for you to benefit from such a life-enhancing experience. To learn how you can serve in a cross-cultural setting, click here or email us at mobilization@extremeresponse.org.

*Name change to protect privacy.

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