By Gaby Orwick
Cuenca is a lovely town in the highlands of southern Ecuador and unanimously was on everyone’s list of places we should visit. Having just enjoyed the beach and jungle in Costa Rica, it sounded just right.
We were excited to go, albeit for only 4 days, and loved every minute of it. We stayed in El Centro – an UNESCO World Heritage Trust site due to its many historical buildings – in a fantastic airbnb apartment and were savoring a delightful tourist experience. It was on our first afternoon in town that we learned there is an orphanage nearby and … the seed was planted.
While we strolled around, joined a walking tour of town, and hiked in Cajas National Park, we kept an eye on our e-mail and checked in with a few local contacts working with the orphanage, about setting a StudioEverywhere experience. EcuadorCares.com – a local expat non-profit – are involved in helping the orphans and abandoned elderly living in the Hogar Miguel León. We weren’t able to piggy-back on their scheduled work however. Do look them up if in the Cuenca area – they are throwing a big fundraiser Gala de Noche on Nov 10, 2015 – and/or donate online.
With one day left in town, we had our sights set on returning to Quito, and shifting planning focus to Peru. Walking up the hill to the Santo Domingo church I saw the “Hogar Miguel León” sign inconspicuously hanging over a plain door. It took a few more steps to compute why that was familiar, but once we realized we had just found the orphanage, we were overjoyed. A walk around the block later, we were lucky there was someone else at the entrance, going in, when we rang the bell. We followed Señor Lorenzo – an American expat volunteer teaching English – in. The Madre was at lunch and not available to talk with us, but we were to come back in an hour to ask if we could do the project…
And just like that we marched to a store across the main square to pick up art supplies, only guessing how many kids might show up. We briskly walked back, picking up cookies in a rush decision that a sweet snack is still better than no snack. The Madre didn’t hesitate and showed us to a room where we were invited to help with English homework before the kids could join us for the project. Loved watching Mike and Elena try to figure out Spanish words and fill-in-the blank sentences, so they could help out. Set up by now was a breeze – we had a big table and a sink nearby, making it all the better.
And the kids didn’t waste a moment to dive into the work. We had a chance to summon Larry (Señor Lorenzo’s) class, and had a good group going within minutes of passing the paper out. Some of the esp. older kids were hesitant to draw self-portraits, so Mike offered to help. Before you know it, there was a line of kids awaiting their turn for Mike to draw them a portrait. The joy and empowerment of seeing their beautiful selves emerge from the end of the pencil, was truly endearing. Some colored their drawings, others hugged them tight and wanted to save them and take them back to their rooms.
We were granted 30 min… and yet another 2 hours later we were still passing paper out, with kids drawing and writing with such enthusiasm. Looking at the work later made me choke a little – many of the “letters” were love notes to “mom” and “dad,” which is especially heart-wrenching in an orphanage. Many expressed gratitude for the nuns who cared for them, and shared verses of belief, strength and courage.
The true proof comes when at the end, when the art is hung on the wall, the kids giggle with excitement and bring their friends and teachers over to see the show. Better yet, both the kids and the staff eagerly asked “when we would be back tomorrow” when we said our good-byes. Ah, truly hope they get to use the donated art supplies and other volunteers make time for art as such a true healing and expression.
~ Gaby Orwick | Nov 3, 2015