So we had sort of a mind-shift about what service learning could and should look like for all of our students today when we met an amazing Ecuadorian named Alicia who runs Casa Victoria with her husband in Quito. Before we delve into that, let’s start with a tour of the house, as we did.
Serving 60 underserved youth from the struggling area of Quito in which Casa Victoria is located, the grounds, which are over 80 years old, provide after school tutoring and homework help in an effort to support neighborhood youth. We began our visit with a quick tour of the building, including the library:
the play room:
the room for homework help:
the kitchen for preparing food:
the beautiful outdoor eating area for students:
and a gorgeous central courtyard, among many other spaces:
As Alicia showed us around, she talked about some of the things she was excited about, like the new turf front yard installed by volunteers so that youth from the area could play soccer in the hot Ecuadorian afternoons.
As educators, and people who think often about how to help our students feel empowered to create the positive change our city desperately needs, this was an absolutely transformational experience for us. Here is a woman who recognizes that the youth (in the area in which Casa Victoria is located) are oftentimes lacking some of the necessary supports to develop into productive, honest and self-sufficient members of their community. In an effort to counteract this, she is slowly building a program that provides academic help, social support and hot meals to the youngest members of the local community of San Roque. As we think about forward planning and what authentic service learning looks like, we wonder how bringing students to a place like Casa Victoria might provide a more powerful experience than something like painting murals. What impact would it have for our students to learn first hand from the experience of seeing a woman who recognized that she could no longer wait around for her community to improve…she had to be the change herself? How might it change how their they envision themselves and their roles in the city of Newburgh?
Alicia also spoke about how even the neighborhood has so many issues, there are so many community members who recognize the contribution of Casa Victoria. As such, the grounds are considered public space that is respected by all, as their ownership over the program is shared and appreciated, especially by the people who are most limited by their circumstances.
The house is run by donations from both the local and the international community. Recognizing the struggle for sustainability as the economy changes, Alicia is currently starting a restaurant in the basement of the house. She will employ local young people who have “graduated” from her program, and the income from the pizzeria will help her re-hire staff to increase the services Casa Victoria offers. It also has the potential of being an amazing spot for tourists who are interested in a delicious meal, but who are also hoping to support the local economy, something we wish we had seen happening more in Quito.
Here is the pizzeria so far:
We were lucky enough to find this hidden gem thanks to our friend Karen, who teaches at Thurgood Marshall Academy in Washington, D.C. Karen is an advocate for and participant in service learning, and has traveled all over the world with students. Feeling inspired, we have been brainstorming ways that we could potentially partner with her and her students for this trip. There is endless potential in collaboration!
We are having internet issues, so more to come later as we keep developing our ideas.
PS Galapagos is amazing! Pictures to follow…