Mundo Sin Barreras

by Chastidy Vasconez

Last week I tagged along with my friend to her placement at Fundacion Mundo Sin Barreras—a disabilities house that supports people of ranging conditions, providing them with computer, art, and music classes, along with occupational therapy. I had the opportunity to sit in on a music class and watch the student band play. Shaking a tambourine to their beat, I was thoroughly impressed by their performance. They wrote their own songs. They sang and played their own instruments with incredible energy. I was happy to see such a warm, safe, and all-inclusive space for people with disabilities to express themselves creatively. 

Individuals with disabilities are often unable to thrive because of the absence of opportunities made available for them. Growing up in Ecuador, my father struggled to access the same resources that other people took for granted because of his hearing condition. Consequently, he fell behind in his classes, was frequently teased, and regularly got into fights with other students. Upon immigrating to the United States in his early 20s, he was finally able to find programs and communities that supported him through his challenges. 

Since Vice President Lenín Moreno’s election in 2007, Ecuador has made steps to better support people with disabilities. Moreno, a big disabilities advocate, launched social service initiatives in order to target the institutionalized discrimination and social isolation this marginalized community faces. Over the last decade, he has implemented policies to better aid those with disabilities, and increased the government budget allocated from $900,000 a year to roughly $200 million a year. There has also been an increase in public accommodations for individuals with disabilities including state and local support services, employment opportunities, and better transportation. Moreno became a prominent figure and role model for those with disabilities, and his presence as Vice President led to his victory in the presidential election back in 2017. He is currently the world’s only elected head of state with paraplegia. 

Moreno’s progressive policies have brought greater inclusion in the governing system and society in Ecuador, but this nation along with many other nations, still have a long way to go to create a world that is easier to navigate for those with disabilities. It is important to continue providing equitable opportunities and resources, such as Mundo Sin Barreras, that allow individuals to reach their full potential. An environment bred to give way for the success of those most vulnerable in our communities will be essential to creating a nation that is all-inclusive.
 

Indio-Maiz

by John Lazur

The Indio-Maiz Biological Reserve (IMBR) is what some people call “The Lung of Central America.” For good reason too: the reserve covers some 110 million acres (only slightly smaller than the state of Delaware.) Indio-Maiz has also been heralded as “the gem of Central American nature reserves” by biologists at UCLA. It was once seen as an “untouchable” reserve, protected by the national government with military stations all around the border registering all visitors, examining what fishermen catch in the river, and restricting access to the vast majority of the reserve. Even with all of this apparent protection, according to the Central America University the region has shrunk at a rate of 350,000 acres per year due to deforestation. What is happening here?

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Mercado

by Elizabeth Kenneally

When my parents came to visit me during la Semana Santa, one of the only plans I made beforehand was to take them to a market. Markets in Cuenca aren’t just places to see pretty arrays of fruit and buy 5 avocados for a dollar; they are perhaps some of the best equalizers in the city. I see all types of people on buses, but those with more money don’t take them and prefer to drive. There are lots of different people at the mall, but those with less money don’t shop there. But everyone needs fruit, vegetables, and meat. You can see men in suits waiting with small, stooped ethnic Cuencan women alongside young children going shopping for their families. It’s the best place to go to really get a flavor for the culture and see people going about their daily lives. 

Ranging from a few stalls to what seems like the size of my hometown, markets in Cuenca are scattered across the city. Some, like the Mercado 10 de Agosto and the Mercado 3 de Noviembre are open every day, always bustling with excited vendors and hurried shoppers. These markets have multiple stories: one is filled with different cuts of meat and entire animals, one with every kind of fruit and vegetable imaginable as well as a section with plants and herbs, one that sells food ready to eat, and often a section for clothing. Most markets also have “la limpia,” a ceremony involving patting you down with plants and rubbing you with an egg that is meant to cleanse you of bad energies. It’s a very popular tradition and is captured in this video.

The culture in Cuenca is very friendly and familiar, where people call each other veci (neighbor), mi corazón (my heart) and mijo / mija (my son / daughter). That’s probably why my host family and I continue to buy fruit from the same little old lady each week even though better prices for the same food are potentially available two feet to the left. Because of this, the only person who agreed to let me film her was the lady making hornado (a typical Ecuadorian dish with mote (hominy), roast pig, cascarita (crispy pig skin), potatoes, and salad) because she already knew me. Así es. 

Soccernomics in Brazil: How Socioeconomic Status Impacts The Beautiful Game

by Jonas Gerken

 I decided to go to Brazil for one main motivation: football. Real football. Soccer. The country is ripe with football culture. Jerseys are sold in every shop; games are on televisions in every eating establishment; pitches exist in almost every neighborhood. Brazilian fans have been known to go to extremes for their national team, including jumping off of buildings, both in defeat and victory. In Brazil, torceda (supporting a team) really is coração (heart).
   In Brazil I played for a team called Orlando City, an academy or development team created and sponsored by the Orlando City soccer team based out of the United States. It was a fun team to play on, and I got to play with my host brother which helped strengthen our relationship. The Brazilians that I played with were very talented, some of the best on the island of Florianopolis, but paled in comparison to kids from around the country. When we played in the Copa Floripa, the largest tournament on the island and in Santa Catarina, we scored just two goals and lost every game by a dividend greater than three. But the kids I played with in Brazil did something that kids in the US soccer system stop doing after they are about fourteen: they play for fun.

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Why I Love Praying Before Meals

by Henry Baer-Benson

When I first sat down to eat with my family my host mom told me, slowly and clearly, that in their family they pray before every meal. “Is that ok?” she asked. “Si si si si si” (yes yes yes yes yes), I cleverly responded. I had never prayed before eating anywhere outside of my grandparents’ house before, and I was excited to take part in this ritual and feel like part of the family. After a week, however, the novelty had worn off and I began to realize that I was truly a stranger in this house. The moments before meals punctuated my day with feelings of doubt and guilt. For fifteen seconds, as I watched my family close their eyes and lower their heads, I felt like an outsider. I wanted to participate, I wanted to be a part of the family, but I couldn’t. It felt wrong for me to do so. If I closed my eyes to join them, I felt like an imposter. I understood words they were saying, but I couldn’t share their prayer.

Fortunately, like all things bridge year, time was my savior. After a month it was comfortable. I still didn’t feel involved. Sometimes, I admit, I was bored, but I was only disinterested instead of disconnected. I was happy to be present for these ritual parts of my family’s day. As the year went on I noticed them less and less. It became habitual, and by April it was not only comfortable, but comforting. Eating meals as a family is an integral part of Ecuadorian culture. We sit down together for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We eat and talk and joke and learn. And we always begin with a prayer. It’s become a natural part of the process such that when my host mom isn’t home and we don’t take those 15 seconds, I feel less engaged with my family and less focused on the meal. 

I’ve periodically found comfort in other rituals as well. For the first half of the year the Maxes and I would go out to eat at least once a week, for a while my host siblings and I would watch a show before going to bed, and I try to call my family on Sundays. But none of these rituals have been as consistent as prayer before we eat. In her TED Talk, Baya Voce says that “connection isn’t created by the things we go get. Connection is created by the things we go back to.” I’ve realized that I look forward to praying before meals as a moment of decompression after a long, confusing day. A pathway back to the present, where I can laugh and share and connect with my family. After so many months of repetition, “Señor Jesús te damos gracias…” has become my singing bowl.