February 18, 2017
Setting off for Duran from Guayaquil Friday morning we saw many interesting and visually unusual sites. Imagine the largest cemetary in the world (Catholic, of course), a 50ft monkey sculpture that would delight the children of St. Mary's, and a Gothic cathedral with the words chiseled above the entrance "Tueresel Cristo Elhijo De Dios Vivo" (meaning Son of God lives) across the street from a park where iguanas roam freely. But among one of the most rewarding visits of the day was a visit to the Duran pre-school, which a BVM nun started over 50 years ago and serves the poorest families of the region. These pre-school children have a safe place to stay while their parents are working and receive an education which they otherwise could not afford. Laughter and squeals of delight filled the air as the children cheered their parents on as they competed against eachother in an obstacle course relay race.
Back at the Damien house we said our goodbyes to the residents we had made friends with the day before. There were tears all around and many heart-felt moments. The house is a bright and cheerful place with a staff that is committed to serving their residents who have been rejected by society due to their condition, Hanson's disease. These men and women were full of graditude for our visit and had a deep appreciation of human touch, which many do not experience due to their condition. Our parishioners did not disappoint and were generous with their hugs and kisses. So many of us were sad to leave Damien house, and especially Sister Annie, a remarkable woman whose spirit is mature and selfless.
Then off for a quick flight to the mountainous region of Quito - by plane 45min taking us from sea level to 9,300ft. For the first 30mins we flew through dense clouds before dropping to the spectacular view of a lush, Emerald valley surrounded by five volcanoes, of which one is active. After an hours ride through the mountains with a landscape dotted by century plants (they bloom only once every 100 years), we arrived at the Working Boys Center. We were welcome by Madre Miguel and Madre Cindy as well as the founder, Padre Juan.
After settling in our rooms we had a quick orientation and were then served a delicious dinner. Some of us gathered in the kitchen beforehand and snacked on the exotic fruits of Ecuador. After dinner, a reflection and prayer were led by Jill's daughter, Kristin Montanari, who asked us all to reflect on our most meaningful moments/encounters at Damien house.
It's lights out now as we are off to do the epic shopping trip tomorrow at the Otavalo market. Jill Montanari and her volunteers purchase, price, and sell Ecuadorian products from this market at our annual soup supper.