by Chastidy, Tufts 1+4 Participant

During the holidays, I longed to be back home in Los Angeles. I missed my friends and family, and the thought of flying home filled me with a surge of excitement. I still feel that excitement, but the sentiment is now mixed with feelings of sadness, too. Ecuador has become a second home to me. 
I now realize how much I will miss my host family and my whole experience abroad. My host family has been incredibly welcoming, accepting, and supportive of me since the time I arrived last September. Martha, my host mom, could easily read how I was feeling from day one. During the evenings, when other extended family members would come over and conversation would go far into the night, she could sense when I felt uneasy. So, she actively tried to engage me in conversations, retelling stories and giving context when I couldn’t understand. And at times, when I felt too timid to dismiss myself, she let me know it was okay to go up to my room. During my first week of Spanish classes, she took the bus with me every day to help me learn my route. She pointed out different places along the way so that I could become familiar with Cuenca. Then, she would quiz me to see if I remembered. On days where she could see I was sad, she would come into my room to talk, cry, and hug it out, reminding me that I was strong and brave. In the evenings, I played card games with Martha and her daughter Sammy, laughing over our favorite game that consisted of shouting animal noises and snatching away each other’s cards. We took trips to Alausi, Giron, and Ingapirca—places all outside of Cuenca—because they expressed that they truly wanted me to get the most out of my experience and to get to know more of Ecuador. Having an amazing host family I could lean on has meant a great deal to me.
It’s been a challenge being away from home and everything I was so familiar with. But luckily, I’ve had a wonderful host family I could go home to after stressful days. During my time here, I’ve also been able to find a community in the everyday small talk with strangers on the bus, in the vendors selling the best tasting fruit, and in the salsa class I coaxed myself into joining. The kindness and empathy I’ve been shown since the beginning has allowed me to find my footing and gather the strength I needed to be open-minded and courageous during my time abroad. I grew the confidence I needed to explore new places and discover new interests, creating new memories that I will forever carry with me. For that I am extremely grateful.  

Why I quit social media

by Rujen, Tufts 1+4 Participant

A year ago, I was a social media addict. I loved using Facebook, Instagram and, Snapchat. I enjoyed sharing updates through my photo and video posts. I was often busy with my cell phone messaging friends and being updated about the lives of hundreds of followers. However, as I took a bridge year after high school, my perception about social media changed in the midst of that year. Slowly, I started realizing how much time and opportunity I had been missing while I was trapped in the world of social media. (The credit goes to some of the inspiring articles and videos on the internet whose links can be found at the bottom of this article.)
It is difficult to quit social media once you have become an addict, especially when most of your friends use it and when you feel the welcoming encouragement. It is often challenging to avoid the appeal. Similarly, it is tough to argue against those who support social media as social media does possess some useful benefits. Nevertheless, I quit social media and this article discusses some of the influential reasons why I quit.
Social media has obviously changed the way people live. It has almost become a daily dose of food, especially for the younger generation. On one hand, it has become a strong medium of communication to connect to the lives of friends and family all around the world while on the other hand, it has risen to become an addiction for some and has been dragging them towards unsociability.
During this year, I started noticing members of the same family busy with their phones during dinner. I noticed people messaging rather than knocking on the door. I saw couples on a date busy with their mobile phones. These are simple instances of how social media has been making us unsocial and I was astonished because I did the same sometimes. Other complications of social media that I noticed was the lack of communication with people. Many of us assume that parents, relatives, and friends use social media to see what activities we have been doing. Thus, rather than conversing with them directly, we tend to focus on our Instagram and Snapchat stories. This has significantly decreased the amount of communication we have with our close members. As a result, we lose the opportunities to express ourselves. Moreover, my involvement in the community had significantly decreased due to my over-indulgence in social media.
I was surprised by one of the articles that presented the drawback of this problem. It stated that the excessive use of abbreviations like lol and omg has forced the young generation to use these shortcuts in their conversations, consequently leading them to lose creativity in the vocabulary that they know. Likewise, a recent study done by journals.org claims that social media is making us lonely and depressed. Even if someone is not enjoying an event, he would post a happy picture on social media. Regardless of the reality, we try to fake our emotions on social media. 
With many solid explanations against social media and my inability to meaningfully progress in my host-community, I was convinced of the idea of quitting social media. Yes, social media is useful but we have to understand the consequences of the addictive use of it. We should have a limit and control the use of it. We cannot spend all of our time using it. Rather than scrolling through the news feed, we should ask people what is going on in their lives and start focusing on real-life conversations. Social media users might have thousands of followers and likes on social media, but they might be lagging behind in real life. Sometimes, giving up on something that you like is one of the best decisions. Thus, let’s start being social in a real way; let’s end unnecessary scrolling.
Photo credit:

On Being Mexican in Nicaragua

by Nadia, Tufts 1+4 Participant

All my life I have been Mexican. Through the years, I have had to grapple with what that means, globally and otherwise. I have had a rough time shaking off stereotypes, but my identity was always on the defensive- I was always proving that I was Mexican, or that Mexicans did belong.
When I was a child, I spent most of my time trying to fit into a crowd that did not know what to do with someone like me. I always felt that it was a personal failure when the other kids rolled their eyes as I talked about anything that happened in my home and when they laughed when I used a word in Spanish. I learned that it was easier to just pretend I was a shallow outline of whatever the other kids believed a Mexican to be. All I ever did was hurt in my home state because no one acknowledged me for who I really was.

Continue reading “On Being Mexican in Nicaragua”

An Angel

by Linnea, Tufts 1+4 Participant

“Here is your food, my queen.” Doña Violet beamed to a child who stood barely taller than her knees. Her voice held such a tone of reverence that it seemed she was truly speaking to royalty. The child responded with a goofy smile, showing the gaps in their mouth that outnumbered the teeth.

This woman, Doña Violet, is an angel. She works nine hours everyday making food from scratch for over seventy children at the youth center where I work. Despite this, every morning when I enter the kitchen, she drops whatever pot she’s stirring or pan she’s scrubbing and spins around to greet me. If I forget my water bottle in the refrigerator over the weekend, she freshens it with new water before I get to work on Monday. When she cooks something that has meat in it, she makes me a vegetarian portion. When I don’t wear my glasses, she notices and asks me where they are. In an environment swarming with people, she not only makes me feel like a valued individual, but manages to devout attention to each and every child. When the food is hot, she will sit for an hour at the preschool table, reminding each kid to blow every single spoonful so that they don’t burn their tongues. When kids are running late for lunch, she will stand in the kitchen as she eats, waiting to serve the remaining children. On the day of the third and fourth grader’s play last semester, she made a special lunch of fried shrimp to celebrate.

However, despite her shining smile, her eyes are tired. She has been working at the youth center for over a decade. The heavy lifting, working on her feet all day, and the daily temperature above 100℉ in the kitchen are taking a toll on her physical health. When I offer to help her with simple tasks such as cutting vegetables or lifting a heavy crate, her face warms and softens as if I had just volunteered to carry her several miles. Only once or twice has she admitted to me that her arthritis has been bothering her. “I’m doing well today…but my wrists hurt,” she’ll say. And with that, she’ll brush off her apron and begin serving the seventy plates of food to her awaiting kings and queens.

Mundo Sin Barreras

by Chastidy, Tufts 1+4 Participant

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.


by John, Tufts 1+4 Participant

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?
Ten years ago, IMBR was a densely covered rainforest, with a soaring canopy and wildlife around every tree trunk. My host dad worked as a cartographer in this time and spent time along the coastal border of the reserve. He walked along the entire eastern edge of the reserve, gathering census data for the local government. He explained what the reserve used to look like: an endless jungle as far as the eye could see, an uninterrupted, green ocean. At this time, the government had enacted laws to protect the reserve, including a buffer zone law. That is, it is prohibited to develop any ranch or farm within 100 meters of the reserve itself. Nowadays, the reserve is encroached on all sides by cattle farms and empty land waiting to be developed. The buffer zone continues to shrink without any response from the guards “protecting” the land.

After Hurricane Otto ravaged IMBR in 2016, the government  opened the reserve for fallen lumber extraction. This move caused further environmental damage as roads were carved through the reserve. Additionally, even after the legal lumber was extracted, lumber companies continued to use these roads to cut and extract protected trees from deep within the reserve. The military presence around the reserve, MARENA, did little to stop these actions. Their lack of action was often motivated by the money and governmental ties the companies had.

The most recent blatant invasion of IMBR is the Finca José Solis Durón, a 625 acre cattle farm located in its entirety inside the reserve. Living within the the reserve is illegal, even for the indigenous Rama-Kriol people–who have lived there for hundreds of years. The local Rama-Kriol government has legal power over the region, but with minimal power to enforce the law, they struggle to protect their lands from invaders like José Durón. The tribes have tried to remove Durón from the reserve, but he has resisted and claimed he is not breaking any law. Durón has acknowledged that he owns the ranch, but claims that he bought the land legally, even though national law prohibits the sale or purchase of land within the reserve. To effectively enforce their laws, the Rama-Kriol people rely on support from the national government and military agents. In the case of Durón, however, he has multiple high-ranking friends in the military rendering it unlikely any action will be taken against him.

The most recent onslaught against Indio-Maiz comes in the form of a forest fire that started in early April of 2018. The exact cause of the fire is not known, but environmental experts agree that it was most likely caused by someone entering the reserve and starting a fire. Whether this was a mindless accident, or a malicious attack on the reserve is unknown. The fire spread rapidly and devoured over 10,000 acres in less than a week. The government called for international aid and received help from countries through Central and North America. Even with this aid, the fire continued to spread uncontrolled. Many cite the lack of protection in the region as a source of the fire and blame the national government for not taking the preservation more seriously.

The Indio-Maiz Reserve is a magnificent, resilient body of tropical rainforest. It is one of the few (relatively) untouched sections of rainforest left in Central America, and in the Western Hemisphere. However, there is only so much destruction the jungle can take without unraveling. Between the lumber farming, introduction of cattle ranches, and natural disasters, the area is under incredible stress. Sadly, the government is more concerned with developing their economic future, a future that continues to focus on benefiting the politicians in power, than conserving the incredible natural resources that they have. If the current trajectory doesn’t change soon, the Indio-Maiz Biological Reserve will be left in history as another abused and bygone rainforest.