Monday, October 11, 2010

Escuela Katitawa - Salasaca, Ecuador

This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.
The Dalai Lama

Going to Salasaca and volunteering at the Katitawa School started off as a way to travel cheaper, figuring that for that one week I would spend only the $10 donation and then whatever I needed for dinner and the occasional cold adult beverage. I couldn’t foresee how much I would adore the children, love the town and appreciate the beauty and simplicity all around me. After arriving in town, I headed for the library connected with the school, where I met a few of the volunteers and was taken to the house where everyone lives. At that time there were 15 of us from all around the world, although mostly Americans and Europeans. The view from the back deck had me actually chuckling with awe at how stunning it was, and I settled in for my first of many tremendous sunsets. Volcano Chimborazo (elevation 6,268 meters or 20,564 feet!) is visible and even though the peak is the farthest spot from the center of the earth you can possibly get (due to the equatorial bulge), it is always covered in snow and is breathtaking in its solitude.

from our back deck

The routine of our house (named Pachamama, or “Earth Mother” in Quichua, the local language of the Salasacas) started with waking up around 6 a.m. for breakfast at 6:30. Robert, an American man who runs the school, came to the house each morning to make a vat of porridge big enough to feed the entire town, and then people set out in groups to walk up to the school. It’s about 40 minutes uphill, zig-zagging through countless farms and animals, with 360 degree mountain views all around – invigorating and beautiful, and by the end most conversations halt because of the lack of being able to breathe let alone carry on a discussion. Anywhere between 8 and 8:30 classes get under way, so the volunteers are either working in the garden/farm, doing construction or helping in a class room. Longer term volunteers have their own classes, so I agreed to help assist Evan in his English classes. At 9:30 there is a break for chloda (a broth with some granola type of stuff in it) and cookies. At 12 we break for lunch and then go back to work for 1 more hour after lunch, finishing the day at 1:30.

serenely sweet Liz and Jessica

silly Cesar

adorable Adrian

Kylee & the kiddos

The school itself is runs on donations, and for the students who attend, this is their only form of education. The kids range in age from about 3 – 15, and the attempt is to give them a Montessori type of education, so as much one on one teaching as can possibly be done. Due to the fact that their knowledge levels are essentially completely varied, it takes a lot of patience to work every student through the tasks, but they are all so sweet (even if some need more ‘coaching’ then others). The supplies at the school are minimal, and most of the time the volunteers are buying what they would like to have in the classroom for the kids, ie: books, notebook, crayons, pencils, art supplies. There are no set workbooks for the English classes and the resources are few and far between.

Friday art day

make shift Twister

the start of a real jungle gym with zip line

These kids made me so happy…. their mostly cheerful attitudes and desire to have sheer and wholesome fun was so refreshing. To play on the volunteer-made tire swing and jungle gym had them shrieking with delight daily. To run around and play football in the vibrantly designed ‘field’ had them competitive and cooperative, begging us to join their teams. At break time and lunch there was a constant flow of students wanting to sit next to (or on) you, try on your glasses, take pictures with your camera, rub their grimy hands all over your face, and in my case especially, play with your hair. I just wanted to squeeze every one of them… and then put them in a hot bath, scrub them clean and lotion their dry little skin up!

very outgoing Fransisca Ligia

Nuesta, aka Squishy Face, aka Squishy

Many of the students wore traditional clothing, so the highly impractical stark white pants and white button down shirt covered with a poncho. Not the best thing for the dusty, dry mountains, but it’s incredibly adorable in any case.

Monday flag assembly with National Anthem

the school

walkin home

When we weren’t working, there was somewhat of a schedule at the house; 1 night a week you took a library shift, so from 3-8 you monitor the people in the biblioteca, helping out wherever need be. There is also the option in that time to teach a class (English for Adults, Spanglish, English for Artesians). Our dinners were always communal, so to cook for 15 people required that everyone got in groups and cooked 1 night a week. The aim is to spend $1/person on the meal, so if it was your turn to cook you’d spend anywhere between $4-5, but basically get fed for the entire week. When it was your night you would cook, serve and clean; kind of a pain but then the other nights of the week you get to sit back and relax and get waited on. And waited on well! The meals were incredible, most of them 3 courses, all of them vegetarian, but the creative things that some of the groups came up with shocked me and my taste buds into a satiated oblivion.

I loved Katitawa School, the town of Salasaca and the other volunteers so much I decided to skip seeing the coast of Ecuador and stayed there for 2 weeks. Well worth it, wish it could have been longer! If you are at all interested in making a difference in this community and the individuals in it, please consider donating to the Katitawa School! Here is a link to their website (and blog) where you can easily make a contribution securely through PayPal. There is no middle man of wasting of finances here – everything goes directly to and for this lovely little school.

(For more info):

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.
If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
The Dalai Lama


cresa said...

unbelievable, nicole. you make me want to throw laos to the wind and just say screw it all and join you. in such a brief period of time what a difference you've not only made in the lives of these kids, but in your own narrative. and in such a breathtaking setting - damn!

Kayla Vandervort said...

Hi! My name is Kayla and I've recently booked tickets to Ecuador and am planning on volunteering at Escuela Katitawa in March! I was wondering if you didn't mine, if you could answer some questions I have about your trip! My e-mail is Your trip looked great!

Simone said...

Ni Nicole.I too will be going to volunteer at Katitawa & have some questions. Which is the best airport to fly into & the best way to get from airport to Salasca? Would really appreciate you help with this.
Many thanks


Charlie Hutchinson said...

Might see you there Simone! :) I'm coming in January and staying for 3 months. I can't wait!! =) Forking amazing job you guys are doing, keep making this world a happier place :) (also Nicole could you also email me saying anything you'd advise taking on the trip, ect spending money) Thanks! (also i never read anything and i read your entire blog, its beautiful)

Alexandra McIntyre said...

Hey there, I've been doing a bit of research on the volunteer program at Escuela Katitawa and it sounds amazing! I've just had a few doubts put in my mind about the legitimacy of the whole thing and would love to have a chat with you about it over email. My address is Thanks so much, Alexandra :-)

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