Our journey into the Amazon rainforest was a long one: two flights, an eight-hour bus ride, and a boat ride before we reached the Minga Lodge on the Upper Napo River in northeast Ecuador. But it was worth every minute.

We were thrilled to represent the MPA faculty and school community on a remarkable service trip this summer, volunteering with fellow teachers from throughout the U.S. and Canada on a life-changing development project through the ME to WE charity program.

To say that we gained a fuller perspective on life and community is an understatement.


Cultural Immersion

As part of the program, we gained invaluable insight into the day-to-day livelihoods of those who do not have the benefit of living in a hyper-developed nation.

We took part in carrying unfiltered river water to a local farmer dependent on it for survival. We listened to his family explain the need for clean water and the governmental obstacles he and his community surmount just to have it on a semi-regular basis.

We learned of the varying cash crops in the area and met a cacao grower. This is where chocolate comes from, and it’s far more complicated than you might think.

We also met with local craftswomen who taught us the process of making goods for sale in the marketplace. They even danced with us!


Service Learning

The foundation of our trip was service. As educators, we had the privilege of meeting the faculty of the local school and exchanging greetings through translators.

When we think of our schooling in America and our expectations for educational resources, we need only experience the dedication and hopefulness of those with far less. If we see a scuff mark on our floor, still we are far more fortunate than our international counterparts whose floors are cracked and broken. We complain about the traffic in Chicago, but imagine what it would be like to commute two hours to and from school every day.

The teachers were inspiring, which only added to our motivation in service. Not only did we witness the growth of the educational foundation, we dug the literal foundation for one of their new school buildings. In the midst of rainforest heat and humidity, we dug and dug and dug some more. We had no power tools or heavy machinery, but relied on pickaxes and shovels.

Though we made only a moderate dent in the construction project, it felt good to give and reminded us of the necessity of such programs at MPA. Giving is the greatest gift.

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An Experience to Remember

We saw gorgeous sunsets and traditional dances, stood on the equator (where water flows straight downward), walked with monkeys, ran from very big tarantulas, snakes, and toucans, and had the benefit of not only learning about Ecuador, but the various teaching environments of our newfound friends from all over North America. We came from all different backgrounds, but we were brought together by the shared desire to serve and educate.

We hope you’ll ask us about our trip when you see us this fall. MPA takes part in WE Day every year, so check it out!

By Scott Sowinski and Derek Smith

Mr. Sowinski teaches Upper School science and oversees our science curriculum. Mr. Smith teacher Upper School English and is our Director of Service Learning.