Aug 26 2022

Verde Sumaco, through the eyes of Andrea Galewater

Other Stories of Impact

The inspiring story of an Academy Corps volunteer’s experience in Ecuador.

We came as strangers and left as family

Prior to leaving for Ecuador for the Academy Corps international service expedition, I was really nervous about not knowing anyone on the trip. Typically, I’m very extroverted, but I froze — it was scary going somewhere new and feeling alone.

When I was checking my bag at the airport on the morning we left, I was close to tears. But then I saw Matt Robinson with his daughter, and they were a welcoming sight. I had only seen him around the office, but it still made me feel more comfortable. I was also lucky enough to have Rebecca Carvajal as a roommate. She was so compassionate and understanding, and she helped me navigate the entire trip.

The start of the trip really opened my eyes to so many people from Academy that I had seen in passing but didn’t really know. By the time we left Ecuador, I considered them family. And not only did I connect with the Academy family, but I also connected with the people of Ecuador in such a fierce way that I never expected.

Working together to build a new path to a safer future

My day typically started at about 5:30 a.m. My roommate Rebecca and I would walk around and  see if the monkeys were swinging in the trees, or we would journal to the sounds of the jungle, which was my favorite.

But this wasn’t a vacation — we were in Verde Sumaco to work and learn. The project for our expedition was paving a path to create safer travel to and from the village, especially for the kids who traveled to the schoolhouse at the center of the village.

Each day, we would separate into different groups, which always included people who lived in Verde Sumaco. One group was ferried to the other side of the Amazon River and would shovel sand into the boat and send it back down the river. Another group would then put the sand into buckets and run them up the steps into the village to the last group, who was helping mix and lay concrete for the pathway.

On the first day, I was in the river collecting sand. Initially, it felt like hard labor, but within 30 minutes of shoveling our group was dancing between boat loads and having a lot of fun! The second and third day I helped mix and lay concrete — let me tell you, it was super hot and the materials were really heavy! Still, we were singing and dancing, and practicing Spanish and English together, and I pretty quickly forgot about how tough it was. 

But even with all the fun we had, I still came home at the end of every day feeling really sore.

I didn’t leave Ecuador — it came back with me

Before I left for Ecuador, I thought I was going there to help the people of Verde Sumaco, but they ended up helping me.

I learned so much from their attitude toward the world: Take what you need and leave the rest. I’ve heard that phrase my whole life, but seeing people who actively live it was incredible. The people of Verde Sumaco truly love their environment and respect the planet, and they have faith that they will never need more than what they have.

I also learned that people and things aren’t always as they seem. Now that I’m back home, I try to be open-minded and less quick to judge other people. I really feel that this has helped me grow professionally and personally by actively trying to keep the environment around me calm and safe.

I was lucky enough to have a sponsor for this trip. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to repay them for the things I learned and experienced. I’m already saving for the next trip to Verde Sumaco. To me, it was better and more meaningful than a relaxing vacation. It was real life, and it was beautiful. We were able to dive into South American culture and become part of their world, not just vacation in it.

I didn’t leave Ecuador — it came back with me.

Academy Mortgage Corporation
"The people of Verde Sumaco truly love their environment and respect the planet, and they have faith that they will never need more than what they have."
Andrea Galewater

Lock Desk Specialist, Salt Lake City, Utah

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