In early February 2019, a group of 19 people from NEXT Plumbing and Hydronics Supply started on an adventure to Ecuador. As a coop student, I had only recently started with NEXT and although I recognized some faces when I arrived at the airport, I had had little to no interactions with most of them.
For the first 3 days, we spent time having fun, pushing our limits and stepping out of our comfort zones; getting to know and supporting each other in the process. We went white water rafting, rock climbing, zip lining and canyoneering – each activity presenting its own challenge, fear and experience.
As exciting and thrilling as those activities were, the most memorable part of the trip started the moment we entered the Amazon basin and arrived in the small community of Bellavista. I no longer felt like a tourist, but part of a group of people with the opportunity to help and learn about another group of people less fortunate than ourselves.
Here is what stood out to me:
- The people: The local literacy rate is low, yet the parents deeply understand the importance of an education. There is a strong sense of community and despite individual challenges, families work together on a regular basis to support the village and the children. In Ecuador, this is called a Minga: the coming together to build projects, and in our case, a new classroom for older children was built. I had the opportunity to work alongside the local families which gave me a greater connection to not only the pride and optimism they feel about their community and their gratefulness for the support, but also of their ongoing struggles and concern for their children’s future.
- The women: As much as they are still somewhat restricted by gender and social norms, the women’s groups continuously learn and look to find time to support each other and their daughters. They have embraced the opportunity, through Me to We, to create jewelry and small artisan products and openly share their pride in being able to generate income for themselves and their families. Together they shared with us how they make the bracelets – and this gave me a sense of how important it was for them to be a part of this shared experience as a community of women.
- The water: It is shocking to see the complete lack of clean water, the lack of governmental support and, in response, the amount of effort the locals have to go through in order to access it. I heard heartbreaking stories of the impacts of drinking tainted water on families and communities. I can’t imagine not being able to turn on the tap to get clean water, let alone, not having any other option but to drink something contaminated with pollutants. There is a visible and impactful difference in the communities that have been helped with access to clean water and thus, this continues to be the primary challenge along the Napo River.
- The food and health: There are plentiful and diverse foods that fill the Amazon and many locals are taking great care to farm their fruits and vegetables sustainably. Cacao, in particular, is a huge source of income for people in this area and they are focusing on maintaining plantations of native species which produce higher quality chocolate. Many plants also have medicinal properties employed by shaman and healer men to support the health of their communities, although modern clinics are slowly starting to become more available.
It is difficult to truly understand the struggles and challenges these people face but this trip has made me realize how important it is to help – locally or internationally, at every opportunity. One of my fondest memories will forever be of the little girls – smiling and laughing. They would ask me to spin them around and lift them into the air. They would ask me to run with them on my shoulders and exclaim how they felt like they were flying. It was moments like these that made the overall experience so rewarding.
I am extremely grateful to have had this opportunity with NEXT and it further emphasized to me, the company’s genuine commitment to giving back and helping community. My time at NEXT has provided me with many memorable experiences, of which Ecuador was only one.