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We are excited to announce that we are now traveling to Ecuador! Designed to provide visitors with unique and transformative learning opportunities, our Ecuador CAS Trip offers a chance to explore one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet. With its rich history, diverse landscapes, and vibrant culture, Ecuador is the perfect destination for students looking to broaden their horizons. From learning about the Inca Empire in the capital city of Quito, which sits high in the Andes Mountains, to being immersed in the culture of the indigenous Kichwa community in Puyo — Ecuador offers a wealth of unique experiences and educational opportunities. 

In April, we were delighted to host the students and faculty of Manheim Township High School on our first trip to this stunning country—their enthusiasm for Ecuador’s diverse history, geography, and cultures made for an unforgettable experience. To provide more insight into what you can expect if you decide to travel with us to Ecuador, we spoke with Tammy Sweeney, Social Studies Teacher and CAS Coordinator from Manheim Township High School, who accompanied her students on a signature CAS Trips adventure

Ecuador CAS Trips 1

Hi Tammy! Thank you for joining us. So, recently you traveled with your students to Ecuador. What did you find most surprising about Ecuador and the trip’s itinerary?

So many things stood out about the Ecuador trip, but one thing, in particular, was profoundly impactful and surprising — the diversity of experiences on this trip! I have traveled to many places with students, and I had never been on a tour that showcased so much diversity! I know part of that uniqueness is due to the amazing diversity present in Ecuador itself! We traveled from highland sierras in the Andes, to low-lying rainforests in the Amazon within a matter of hours, from remote village communities to unique urban environments; Ecuador truly has spectacular diversity! 

However, a lot of the variety that impressed us on this trip was due to the design of our itinerary by CAS Trips. Our itinerary was the perfect mix of challenging physical activities coupled with meaningful service. Hiking into the Quilotoa crater, the remnants of a massive volcano, was an almost spiritual experience for many of our students. The vistas were unbelievably beautiful, and the challenge of hiking in such high altitudes was a humbling experience—one they will never forget. 

We are so glad to hear that! What about the people you met during your trip?

Yes. Similarly, meeting and working with Omar Tello, a conservationist near Puyo, was life-altering for our kids. We always emphasize to our students that organizations are essential, but it is passionate individuals who actually make change happen. Meeting Omar Tello and the communities he works with made that real for our students. Here was a man who abandoned his job as an accountant and devoted the last 40+ years of his life to reforestation projects in the Amazon. 

Our kids reflected on our service project with him, concluding they finally understood what “Think Global, Act Local” meant. They realized that change is created by individuals doing amazing things in their local communities — that realization empowered them to come home and do the same!

We’re excited to form lasting relationships with the inspiring people we’ve met through CAS Trips, so much so that we’ve decided to make Ecuador our permanent destination and return every other year. 

It sounds like students are really connected with the local people. What did the students remark on most about Ecuador and its culture?

Our kids commented most on how brilliant, innovative, passionate, and proactive the people of Ecuador are. While in Quito, our students were deeply inspired by the creative work of local leaders of the NGOs they interacted with at the Recycling Laboratory and the Yaku Water Park Museum. Our kids were immediately brainstorming how they could institute similar ideas in our school and community. 

While in the highland Andes region, our students couldn’t stop talking about how efficient and sustainable the house construction and farming techniques of the Kichwa people were. The experience prompted them to reexamine how they live and question whether they could replicate some of the brilliant traditional lifestyles they learned about (we study Gandhi’s concept of ‘appropriate technology,’ and the kids commented that they really understood what he meant when meeting the highland Kichwa community members. For example, Kichwa house construction created an interior climate that was naturally cool in the summer and warm in the winter; the kids wondered if house construction in America could be designed to harness local wind patterns to take advantage of natural airflow, leading to less energy consumption from air conditioning). 

Finally, while in the Amazon, the students felt empowered by the passion and activism of the people they met. Interacting with individuals who risk everything to march and protest for their rights or dedicate their lives to protecting their environment was inspiring. 

Ecuador CAS Trips 2

Do you believe the experience your students had in Ecuador will change how they think about their surroundings back home?

Yes. Although the kids interacted with many people in Ecuador who did not have access to all the consumer goods or infrastructure we have in America, they never once looked at the people of Ecuador and saw poverty. Our students saw brilliant, innovative, and passionate individuals who love their country, traditions, and culture. Our students saw people who actively engage in their community, are committed to social and economic justice ideals, and are proactive in making change happen.

Service trips to developing nations can often produce a “white savior” mentality. I knew CAS Trips actively took a stance against that type of travel experience and was thrilled to see it pay off with our kids. Our students still comment on how extraordinary Ecuador and its people are!

We are glad to hear the students were inspired by what they experienced! Did any of your students develop an idea for the CAS project while on the trip?

While the kids came up with numerous ideas for CAS projects, one stands out. JD Emig, a current senior in the IB program, was struck by how impactful small signs in hotel rooms throughout Ecuador were that reminded people to save water and electricity. 

He remarked many times throughout the trip on how simple this could be and was shocked that we didn’t do something similar in America. While still on tour, JD formed a team of students to begin researching similar initiatives, compile a list of hotels in our hometown community of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, that might want to participate and began to design removable vinyl stickers that could be provided free of charge to local businesses. 

After returning from the trip, the kids began writing a news brief for the project to bring awareness to what they hoped to accomplish, as well as an information sheet that could be distributed to hotels explaining the potential benefits of participation. Their ultimate goal is to gain data on water and electricity usage before and after stickers are put in rooms and propose to our state congress to enact legislation requiring similar stickers throughout our commonwealth. I am so glad because this is the whole point of international service learning! To be inspired to make positive change.

Thank you so much to Tammy and the whole Manheim Township High School crew! You can learn more about what awaits you on our CAS Trip to Ecuador on our website.