While I have only been in Ecuador with Ecumenical Foundation for Development, Integration, Training and Education (FEDICE) for two months, I have been out of the United States (and my comfort zone) since November. For me, November was the tail end of a time of discomfort, restlessness, and waiting for God’s plans for my future to be revealed. I had finished my medical school applications, and my plans to be a GMI had been in the works for months. When I was finally given a week’s notice that I could go to Mexico before heading to my placement in Ecuador, I leapt at the opportunity. Hanging up the phone after that conversation, I wondered if I had been hasty. I didn’t know anything about Chiapas, Mexico. I had been preparing for a different country all together. Fast forward to the night of November 20th: I found myself smiling as my taxi wove through traffic, I had this overwhelming feeling that life is so cool. While my time in Mexico was brief, it was the perfect transition on my way to Ecuador. I got back into the groove of speaking Spanish, I worked with people different from me, I found value in any menial task that could help those around me, and I learned that forming relationships is one of the most valuable things we can do in life.
After finding a community and routine in Mexico, I was anxious about transitioning yet again. I was scared that I wouldn’t make friends, that I wouldn’t be able to make it feel like home, and that a new organization might struggle with finding use for my particular skills. I was afraid of the unknown. I have now been in Ecuador for about two months and I can confidently say it has become a home. This became most apparent to me when I became ill last week. I was sick for about a week straight and ended up in the emergency room on two separate occasions. Both times, someone from FEDICE accompanied me despite it being a Saturday or late at night. I told them I was okay and they didn’t have to spend their time just sitting with me, but they insisted and wanted me to feel supported. Furthermore, they collaborated with my neighbors (who drove me to the ER in the middle of the night) to prepared me meals and check up on me. I am extremely grateful for everything they did for me, but I am not surprised. Everyone I have come across here has been extremely gracious, generous, and kind.
In terms of my work with FEDICE, I have had to learn a new approach to work. I have always been ambitious, direct, and impatient. Before coming here, I was warned that my perfectionism may lead to frustration in this kind of work. While I like things to be straightforward and efficient, that’s usually not how things work when you are volunteering in a different culture. I have had to learn to live in the present, and the value of taking the time to get to know the people and communities I will be working with. In the process of sometimes feeling like I haven’t accomplished as much as I anticipated, I have learned to value the small milestones: meeting communities all over Ecuador, being recognized when I return somewhere, having a young child ask me to play games with her, listening to an older woman’s health concerns, meeting doctors willing to work with me on workshops, and integrating into the tight-knit FEDICE team. I see now that accomplishments can come from moments like these rather than checking off boxes on a to-do list. While the process of getting acquainted may have felt slow-moving at first, I have learned to value patience required to truly lay the groundwork for the lessons I hope to teach in the future. I am forever grateful that I am surrounded by open and accepting people who make my job infinitely easier. The community I have found here has been the most striking blessing of my GMI experience so far, it has provided me with an unexpected home away from home.
Mary Kathryn Ball serves as a Global Mission Intern with FEDICE (Ecumenical Foundation for Holistic Development, Training, and Education), which is based in Quito, Ecuador.