by Stephanie E Neal
The Galapagos Islands are incredibly unique. Sitting far offshore from the South American continent they have a unique blend of isolation and ties to other regions. From a biological stand point, the islands are tied to other regions of the world through currents and winds that brought species to the islands. The Islands are also so isolated that they have developed high number of endemic species (species only found in the Galapagos) such as the marine iguana or the blue footed boobies. This pattern is also reflected in the human population. In the early days of Galapagos settlement, the islands were colonized by pioneers. These people lived off the land and rarely made contact with outsiders. Now, most of the people on the island have ties to mainland Ecuador. People here see the Galapagos as an escape from hectic dangerous life in Guayaquil or the hustle and bustle of Quito. Life here is often described as ‘tranquilo’ or calm. Not only do the people here have ties to mainland Ecuador, as the economic balance of the islands switches to tourism, the locals are becoming dependent on tourists from all over the world. Initially the Galapagos started as just a pioneer haven then, as people began to fish the islands, coastal towns began to develop. Now, the economy of the Galapagos has shifted to be based on tourism.
I look at my service project as a way to ease the transition to a highly tourist dependent economy. For the past ten weeks I have been teaching English classes through IOI. The host families must attend two out of the three classes offered by IOI. Mine is the least popular. Many of the families want to learn but have a fear of starting or really committing to learning. The moms who attend my class are all very eager to learn. All of them have or had host students at one point, so learning English will benefit their communication with their student. In some of their professional lives English is critical; one runs a hostel and another owns a restaurant. I look at what I have been doing as a way to empower locals to take charge of their growing economy to mitigate the effects of foreign business coming into the islands and taking charge of tour operations with a local as just the face of the company.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my service project not just because of the way I can give back to the community and make life for some of the locals a tad easier but because of the challenges it has presented me and the way it had made me grow. Firstly, it made me think of English in a different way with a new perspective. I was forced to step into my students’ shoes and understand what they found difficult and what they were stuck on. I was forced to be very creative through this experience. I have had to come up with fun games, vocabulary list, phrases, and verbs for my students to learn from. I have also had to make decisions on what is the most important for them to learn. With around only ten weeks of classes for just one hour a week, I had to concentrate my time on what is most important for them to learn and understand. Finally, this service project has made me more confident. I have always been fearful of using my Spanish, especially in front of a lot of people or with authority. With the class I had to put fear and inhibitions aside and use the tools I had to teach the class to the best of my abilities. I am so thankful to the members of my class for coming with curiosity and determination, IOI for offering such a wonderful experience and to the community in Isabela for making me feel welcome for the last eleven weeks.