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It's hard to believe we have already been home over a month after a very busy, emotional and amazing experience in Ecuador and Galapagos.
For the first week, with 5 families and siblings there were 20 of us in total. We started off with 2 days in Quito visiting the old part of the city,the equator - 'mitad de mundo' - middle of the world, and statue of the virgin overlooking the city. We visited the language school where the gap year volunteers spent their first 2 weeks learning spanish and met their teachers. This was very emotional because we saw Sarah's bedroom and also, as she had been at the school before with a group of gap year students, Fernando who runs the school knew her well and so I was able to chat with him and one of the other teachers about her.
After that we had to rush back to our hotel to get smartened up because we had been invited to dinner with the British ambassador, Linda Cross. She lives in a beautiful colonial style villa on a hill just on the outskirts of Quito, overlooking the city. It was a very informal and pleasant evening with other members of the Embassy staff and their partners to chat to.
The next day (Sat), we flew to Manta on the west coast and from there had a 3 hour bus journey to Puerto Lopez. This is where the girls were heading and it is a small, undeveloped, very dusty fishing town with a beautiful beach and big waves!
VentureCo have a house there where the gap year volunteers stay while they are doing their projects. So far they have been helping build kitchen and toilet facilities for the various creches in and out of town. Their next project is to help with rebuilding work at one of the local schools.
We had a large selection of story books with pages in both spanish and english, atlases and dictionaries which had been purchased with BISEEBook funds, which we had to sort and divide between the 5 schools. I had taken a few children's story books and the Sadler family took a box of children's books while the Pincocks took a box of Spanish books donated by the spanish community at the international school where Jill Pincock teaches.
Easter Sunday was a very hard day for us all, being the anniversary of the accident. We had a one and a half hour bus journey to the site of the crash. A memorial has been built at the side of the road and a marble stone plaque with the girls names on was put in place on the memorial while we all watched. We all stood together round the memorial. It was very emotional and very sad. We took flowers and scattered rose petals on the road.
It is such a wide straight road that it is so difficult to explain how such an accident could have happened there.
The next day we all set to work and each family went into their school to set up their book corners. We all wore red T-shirts with BISEEBooks and the girls' names on the back. Kay Sadler had very kindly had these printed and brought them with her. Each school was given a book case and as we only had a fairly small corner, I put up 'Sarah's Corner' in coloured letters, some photos, some sunflowers, a small paragraph in spanish about Sarah and a plaque. Since we left, a strip of vinyl has been put on the floor because it is so dusty, some cushions have also been made for the corner and sunflower posters have been put up. Some families had bigger corners so were able to paint pictures on the walls.
The children were all so excited and pleased to see us. We also had BISEEBooks biros for each of them which they absolutely loved. They all wear school uniform and look very smart. They have very few reading books and after we had finished and opened the corner by cutting the red ribbon, they made little speeches thanking us. The Pincock's school put on a short concert of singing and dancing for all of us in the afternoon which was really enjoyable.
The next day we went to visit some of the other VentureCo projects - a creche where they had built a kitchen and toilet and another school where they had put up a fence to protect the children from the road.
We also had a trip to a beautiful beach in the Machalilla National park where we were able to swim.
A group of gap year volunteers has just left for Ecuador and when they get to Puerto Lopez they will visit the 5 schools to do activities and reading with the children.
All too soon it was time for us to leave, It was an amazing adventure over the two and a half weeks and all the families agreed that we had made the right decision and Ecuador was the right place for us all to be together on the first anniversary. We got to know each other very well and all got on together, we are now a close group.
We hope that BISEEBooks will go from strength to strength and hopefully more book corners will be set up and also we will be able to buy a BISEEBook Bus which will be able to reach the more remote schools outside Puerto Lopez and beyond.
Throughout the first week we were looked after fantastically well by David Gordon - Operations Director for VentureCo - who planned and organised our activities each day, assisted by Germania, Pedro, Jaibel and Fernando. We would like to thank them all for their help and support.
Pam Howard and Terry Wilkinson
The memorial visit as experienced by Pam Howard and Terry Wilkinson