Launching Pad Trip – Teaching and Restoration in San Cristobal, Ecuador

By Alyssa Altamirano-Putnam, | August 2019 | traveling with partner Projects Abroad

“It’s so green!” was all I could think when I landed in the Galapagos. Three planes, months of planning, and 3,010 miles later and I all I could think was “It’s so green.” We drove to the reserve from the airport, and I wasn’t nearly as nervous as I thought I’d be. I settled in quickly and made friends with all the other volunteers. I spent eight weeks in the Galapagos, and it still didn’t feel like a long time. My mornings consisted of waking up at 5:00 am to tag along with the conservation teams to count sea lions, breakfast at 6:00 am, and then heading to the office to plan English lessons. I had four classes that were 45 minutes long and lasted from 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm. My students were aged from 5 to 16 and completely stole my heart within my first few days there. I never had so much respect for my school teachers until I had 20 eight year olds screaming and running around asking me a million questions at once. 

One morning, during my lesson planning, a little girl showed up four hours early because her mom had to go to work. Her name is Andrea, and she is six years old. My supervisor, William, at school said that had never happened before. While I wrapped up my lesson planning I kept my eye on her. She sat patiently on the couch in the entryway and was unbelievably calm and quiet. I had never seen a child so mellow and responsible. I finished up my lesson planning and decided to go sit with her. She was silent at first, and her English skills were a little less than my Spanish skills. We spent hours before class playing games, looking at magazines, and going over numbers and colors together. Despite our inability to effectively communicate, we had a lot of fun together. It spoke volumes to me, because she reminded me a lot of myself when I was a kid: responsible for myself, a quick learner, and easily entertained. I spent a lot of my childhood having to take care of myself, and it was a gift to me to be able to do little kid things with Andrea.

She drew me a picture of a rainbow that is still on my fridge, and I’ll keep forever. She taught me that despite whatever situation you’re in you can still be bright, loving, and kind.

The rest of my classes with her I watched her grow so much, and it was extremely hard to say goodbye. I was so proud of everything she did. 

On one of my last days tagging along with the conservation group, we went up to the highlands to work with a reforestation project: no houses, dirt roads, and more green and blue than I could’ve ever imagined. We were using machetes to cut down invasive species and then taking flights of native trees to plant in designated spaces. I took a few minutes to walk away from the group and take a break. I was walking for about five minutes looking at all the plants and found a beautiful little spot to sit under a tree. While I was sitting in silence, in the middle of a forest, on a small island, in the Pacific Ocean something really amazing registered in my brain: the world is so big and we are so small, but one person can really make a difference. I had impacted the life of Andrea, was moments before reviving the native plants in the forest, and had been a part of so many other small projects during my time in the Galapagos. Even if it didn’t seem like the everyday tasks in my life were world altering, they could be to someone or someplace.

Getting up from my little spot in the forest, as cliché as it sounds, I really became a different person.

My life thus far had made me doubtful, but after this trip, I felt a newfound sense of confidence and realized a new passion for travel and giving back as much as possible. This trip was a launching pad for me.

I can’t wait to see other parts of the world and give back as much as I can to everyone I can.

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