UAlbany Students Experience an Unforgettable Spring Break

Eleven UAlbany students journeyed to the slums of Duran just outside of Guayaquil -- Ecuador's largest city

Eleven UAlbany students journeyed to Duran, Ecuador

Instead of the typical spring break trip to the nearest sunny beach, eleven UAlbany students journeyed to Duran just outside of Guayaquil -- Ecuador's largest city and shared a life altering experience. Led by UAlbany alumnus Jonathon Morales, '05, along with Father Robert Longobucco, Catholic campus minister, Diana Conroy of the Albany Catholic Worker House and Theresa Gecewicz, '05, the group spent a week in one of the world's poorest locales. "We might all have a picture in mind when we hear the words: third world poverty," said Fr. Bob, "but we came away not with statistics, but with faces; not with facts, but with friends." The students faced challenges of language and lack of conveniences that they normally take for granted, but all accepted what they found and came back with new, deeper perspectives.

Alyssa Simms

Alyssa Simms


Alyssa Simms, a senior English major and education minor from Saratoga Springs, New York signed up as soon as she heard about the opportunity. "I really wanted to go, especially because of the work done with children in the program and because I want to be a teacher. I came back from the trip with more motivation to become a teacher and a new desire to work with underprivileged school programs."

Alyssa was so excited about going on this trip that she decided to keep a daily journal. Read her day by day account >>

2/18/06 Day One

Retreat house in Ecuador

Retreat house in Ecuador

Shortly after arriving at the retreat house here in Duran, Ecuador we were given a tour of the neighborhood by our leader -- a UAlbany graduate - Jon Morales. All I can say so far is that I am overwhelmed by the positive nature of the people we have met. To us they seem so unfortunate, as they have no clean water, little food, no sewage systems, and no electronic luxuries. Despite all of these things the Ecuadorians are so hospitable to us, they never stop smiling or telling their stories. They never complain. They offer us everything they have no matter how small it may be.

2/19/06 Day Two

Claude Peart and Theresa Gecewicz playing soccer with the kids.

Claude Peart and Theresa Gecewicz playing soccer with the kids.

Today was full of soccer, or "futbol." We played with some neighborhood kids all morning in the rain. It's so hot here you don't even stay wet. These kids are amazing at soccer. It was a really cool experience, because there were no language barriers, we just played and laughed together. In the afternoon we went to a men's league soccer game down the road from our house. They played with a tiny round ball and they were excellent. The men were so polite to us and brought us chairs to sit on to watch the games.
La Tienda -- the market

La Tienda -- the market

Afterwards we went to the market for the first time, which was so different than at home. "La Tienda" is a tiny room with the entrance barred and all food must be ordered through a tiny window in the bars. This is a safety precaution of course. The low prices of food are astounding.

2/20/06 Day Three

Damien House Chapel

Damien House Chapel


An amazing day. We traveled to Damien House in Guayquil, a hospital for Hansen's Patients (patients with surviving leprosy). Despite their pain and suffering these patients were so warm and welcoming to our group. We sang
Group singing to the patients.

Group singing to the patients. Left to right, Christine Pickney, Anita Beutof, Lauren Wainer, Diana Conroy, Aleidy Diaz, Amanda Piurek, Claude Peart, Theresa Gecewicz, Olivia Fagan, Ryan Munks, Alyssa Simms, Kim Nuzzo, Father Bob Longobucco, and Carolyn Ortizt.

together and told stories. We played dominoes and checkers. They seemed so happy while we were there. The hospital itself is such an admirable foundation, but is tragically running out of funding. Sister Annie, a nun who does remarkable work at the hospital, told us that if they do not get more financial support by April they will be forced to close, and all of the lovely men and women we met there will be turned away. Of course we will do everything we can to help, but it would be such a tragedy for that hospital to close. Its cause is so unique. I was especially inspired by a former patient who is now working to gain funding and support for the hospital. His name is Jonathan and he went to the hospital as a patient when he was only 15 years old. He is now 22 and shows no visible affects of the disease. He was such a gentle and motivating soul! I have never met someone who appreciated their life so greatly.

2/21/06 Day Four

Kim Nuzzo and Olivia Fagan teaching some girls how to say different colors in English.

Kim Nuzzo and Olivia Fagan teaching some girls how to say different colors in English.

Today we traveled from our own neighborhood in Duran to an even lesser developed area where all of the houses are on stilts and the streets are flooded and full of garbage. Disease is spread so rapidly there. We all felt so helpless just walking through this area and being able to offer these brave people no assistance. Much of the water is green and stagnant and people must walk through it to get in and out of their homes. Seeing this sight just made us that much more thankful for all we have at home. We worked in a school program in that town where John our group leader from UAlbany works. The children are thrilled we are there to help them with their English lessons and their Spanish conjugations. They are thrilled we are there at all just to smile at them and hold their hands. They seem so blissful and I wonder if they are at all aware of the conditions they endure every day. We played soccer with them on a muddy field in the hot sun - it was completely exhilarating and totally fun! The kids all love Uno here, too!
Anita Beutof getting her hair done

Anita Beutof getting her hair done.

After lunch John piled us all in the van and took us to the community center in a nearby town where students take part in hands on courses that will help them learn a trade! Here the students range in teenage years. There are different sections, like cosmetology, auto mechanics, welding, etc. This gives them an opportunity to make money and surpass their current economic standards.

These students seem so thrilled to learn, and so happy to meet us. At the cosmetology section all of us girls got our hair and nails done!

2/22/06 Day Five

Carolyn Ortiz, Alyssa Simms, Claude Peart, Aleidy Diaz and an amazing man named Freddy, who they spoke to daily and played checkers.

Carolyn Ortiz, Alyssa Simms, Claude Peart, Aleidy Diaz and an amazing man named Freddy, who we spoke to daily and played checkers.

We went to Nuevo Mundo (new world) school in Guayaquil, where our house organizer Franklin went to high school. This school provides a split school system, the mornings for students of Guayaquil and the afternoons for students from Duran to have a chance to travel outside of their small town and be educated. This school provides such an enormous opportunity for students from Duran. Education is their tool for progress. Only the most dedicated students with the best grades stay in the school. They even fed us a hot lunch!!!! After that we went back to the neighborhood to spend time with the friends we've made their just walking around and playing soccer. They have little to offer us but always offer the materials they do have (all Ecuadorians offer us soda but never drink it) and also offer us a lot of wisdom and knowledge. I have developed great respect for these adults as their lives have contained immense suffering and experience. They love to tell their stories and hear ours and compare our two cultures.

2/23/06 Day Six

Aleidy Diaz playing Uno with some boys.

Aleidy Diaz playing Uno with some boys.

We got up very early to experience an Ecuadorian mass. It was very peaceful and quiet, and the church was beautiful.

We went had to say goodbye to all of the neighborhood children today who we saw daily and with whom we formed close bonds. We also had to say goodbye to the little children in the day care run by our retreat program. All of this was very sad, but they really just kept thanking us for coming. They made us pictures and gave us tons of hugs and kisses.

2/24/06 Day Seven

Lauren Wainer with a local woman and her handmade birds.

Lauren Wainer with a local woman and her handmade birds.

The last day! We had such a happy day today. All of our neighbors came over with their crafts for us to buy as souvenirs and memories of our time with them. They made bags, jewelry, recipe books, belts, and shirts. We each got something extremely special to take with us. After that we went back to Damien House to say goodbye and we were also fortunate in being able to buy some of the crafts made by patients there. As Hansen's disease weakens the muscles, the crafts help the patients gain their strength back. Their artwork is amazing!
Lighthouse in Guayaquil

Lighthouse in Guayaquil


After we said goodbyes at the hospital we were taken on our first and only tourist portion of the trip. We got to go to Guayaquil and climb 444 steps up to a lighthouse that overviews all of Duran. It was a hot walk but very interesting as throughout the stairwell were houses and business, of course these people were the wealthiest we had met. At the top of the stairs were a beautiful lighthouse and a chapel. The view and the beauty of it all was really a perfect ending to our last day.

Related Links:
Damien House >>
Chapel House >>
Newman Association at UAlbany >>

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