It’s not everyday that a fearsome pack of college students, hailing from the queen city of Charlotte in North Carolina, use their Spring Break to create and execute a sustainable learning service project all the way in Cuenca, Ecuador.

Three BIG hip, hip hoorays for UNC Charlotte – you guys are champs.

There really was nothing that stood in their way, from 6 hour flight delays, to jet-lag, to Ecuadorian homestay mamás feeding their bellies with ginormous, coma-inducing almuerzos, to getting lost in the foreign city of Cuenca, to creating music videos that will one day make them famous (fingers crossed), to…, to... – well you get the idea.

The first day was challenging, as they rush to get their hands dirty and kicked off the project by having a long discussion with the director about the long-term needs and interests of the foundation.

Fundación Arenal is a local, non for profit organization dedicated to bringing opportunity, education and security to the lives of low-income, at-risk children. Most of the foundation kids have parents that work in the biggest market in the city, Feria Libre. Some of the families are in desperate situations and so rely upon the foundation for the bare essentials, like food on the table. Other families value the educational environment created by Fundacion El Arenal, and strive for their children to grow and learn from the foundation’s resources, passionate teachers and creative problem solving of the onsite social worker.

With the goals of the foundation driving the project forward, the group retreated to begin brainstorming ideas, divvying up roles, developing a plan for execution and most importantly, offering all they could in the time they had.

We’re excited to share that UNC did nothing short of smashing it out. They built a fruit, veggie and herbs garden on the roof of the foundation, created hanging plants out of recyclable materials like plastic bottles and put together handmade toys with sustainable resources such as bamboo.

Throughout the development of the project, the Director of Fundacion El Arenal spoke to the students about the value of the work they’d done. It was through this garden that the kids at the foundation would have the opportunity to learn more about care and responsibility, where food comes from and the inherent value within eating a natural, diverse and plant-rich diet. The toys are toys, and naturally put wide grins on the faces of the kiddos.

Beyond service, the director of the foundation emphasised that the project they completed was their own opportunity to grow personally and professionally.

This project was an exchange of value. It was about give and take.

The students have built a sense of international awareness, practiced mindfulness and cultural competency and developed soft skills in leadership, taking initiative, project development and true-blue hard work.

On behalf of El Nomad, it’s our hope that UNC students will carry the lessons they learnt in this 10 days for the rest of their lives. Applying cultural appreciation, support for locals and community collaboration to all the places they travel and to their lives back home.

It’s not everyday that students like this bunch have the opportunity to be involved in such a purposeful project, surrounded by resilient, passionate and driven people.

In the spirit of International Women’s day, we’d like to send our appreciation and support for the women that drive forward the foundation, hustling hard and bouncing back from the ongoing setbacks. We’d also like to say thank you to the students (men and women!) that valued these women and their mission enough to spend their Spring Break being here and doing what they can.

Cheers to a job well done!



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