Academics and Research

DU students volunteer in Ecuador

Instead of an elaborate winter vacation, six DU students, a professor and two project directors chose to spend their winter break in an impoverished area of Ecuador.

They volunteered at two schools as part of the University’s newest international service-learning program, Project Ecuador.

“You get completely immersed in the culture,” says Brooke Breazeale, a graduate student pursuing a degree in conflict resolution. “You learn and grow so much and you hope you did something good for someone else, too.” 

Breazeale and the other participants traveled first to Quito, the capital, to get acclimated. For four days, they toured historical sites, listened to guest lecturers and visited a preschool. 

For the next two weeks, the participants stayed in Borja, a rural town in the Amazon Basin. Their service work alternated between a private Catholic school in Borja and a special-education school in nearby El Chaco. 

La Escuale Especial is a school for students ages 6–30 with pervasive developmental disabilities. 

“We were able to give them one-on-one attention,” says Megan Kimble, a DU senior majoring in creative writing and Spanish. 

Many days the participants would split up; half would teach English to high school students in Borja and the others would help the students in El Chaco with crafts, physical therapy and life skills. 

Afterward, Project Ecuador Director Cynthia Hazel would facilitate group discussions about the day’s activities. 

“I really appreciated the interdisciplinary aspects of our group,” says Hazel, an assistant professor of child, family and school psychology at the Morgridge College of Education. “The experience was more rich, diverse and more transforming than I ever hoped.”

Hazel traveled to Ecuador twice before to learn how the education system works in the democratic country. She felt students at DU could benefit from a similar experience by working firsthand with the people.

“Ecuador is not, at least not yet, overrun with tourists and visitors,” Hazel says. “They’re very interested and willing to share their culture. People make time to stop and talk.”

Project Ecuador is one of six DU international service-learning programs.

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