Service-Learning Program in Ecuador Teaches Leadership

Camps International: Camp Ecuador
Students arriving at Camp Ecuador. Photo courtesy of Anna Shearer.

As summer began, most students were looking forward to a break from classes and the daily grind. For educator Amanda Neill and her 13 sophomores and juniors from Ursuline Academy in Wilmington, Delaware, they were actively embracing a different kind of daily grind – a full week of globally-minded, leadership-based service in Ecuador with WorldStrides Camps International.

This rustic program wasn’t like any school trip Ursuline’s students have ever experienced. As a seasoned-traveled school, they have traversed the globe.  But on a WorldStrides Camps International program, students are taken to locales that are facing significant obstacles, as well as opportunities. They live among locals and steep themselves in service experiences.

Ursuline students got off the plane in Quito and six hours later, through the Andes, into the Cloud Forest, and through the rainforest, they had made it to their destination—Camp Ecuador.

Their goals for the week were significant: help build a water collection tank and a septic system, teach English classes and help refurbish furniture for the village’s school. Each student would take turns in a leadership role to complete each day’s tasks. They knew that each task would help support the community.

Camps International: Camp Ecuador
Students digging water collection tank and septic system. Photo courtesy of Anna Shearer.
Camps International: Camp Ecuador
Students refurbishing furniture at school. Photo courtesy of Anna Shearer.

“My students learned practical skills, as many of them had never swung a hammer, used a saw, or maintained a garden,” Amanda Neill explained. “There was never an opportunity not to be in a leadership role. Everyone was an integral member of the team.”

As the week went on, Ms. Neill explained that she was proud to see how they learned to lean on each other and take ownership of their tasks.

Jane Lyons and Anna Shearer, both rising seniors, traveled on the program.

“Each time we completed a task, whether it was building a shelf or a septic system, we felt more capable,” said Jane Lyons.

“We all became very close. It didn’t matter what grade we were or our age, what mattered was that we were all doing this together,” said Anna Shearer.

“We didn’t want to leave,” said Lyons. “The people were coming up to us to say thank you. We had an impact on them, but they had more of an impact on us.”

As they were leaving and saying goodbye, the students left their luggage filled with clothes and shoes for the villagers. “It was our way to say thank you and to give them something they would need. We practically left with the shirts on our backs,” said Shearer.

Camps International: Camp Ecuador
Playing with the villiage children. Photo courtesy of Anna Shearer.

“I was also amazed to see that students weren’t anxious to reengage in technology. They enjoyed the simplicity of life, and came back as different people with a new perspective on life,” Ms. Neill said proudly.

Ms. Neill and her students are already planning next year’s WorldStrides Camps International program. “There has never been an educational travel program that has aligned with our mission as much as WorldStrides Camps International,” said Neill. “I started asking the students where they would like to go next year. They told me that they want to come back, so that they can continue to help the community and see the work that they have done, and what it has done for the locals.”

Both Lyons and Shearer agree, “This trip changed our lives”.

Camps International: Camp Ecuador
Photo courtesy of Anna Shearer.

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