I met Erin by fax.
We worked at the same big company in an industrial hub southeast of Los Angeles. Semi-trucks by the thousands passed through the city en route to load their trailers or empty them. Dozens of these trucks came through our facility on a daily basis. Whenever we hired new drivers, a shrill beep from the fax machine announced incoming documents that needed my attention. Erin was the sender.
This routine went on for quite some time. One morning, a co-worker at the company was amused to learn that Erin and I had never actually met. She walked Erin over to my desk. It was then we discovered our cubicles were only 60 paces away from one another. Sixty paces! We had a good laugh.
That was in 2009.
This past week, I had the opportunity to visit Erin in a much different environment. A bus transported me from Guayaquil–the largest and most populous city in Ecuador– to the small town where Erin currently lives and teaches. The ride took an hour and a half with starts and stops where the scenery changed from a bustling Latin American city to a slower pace countryside with miles and miles of rice fields.
I arrived in the town of Samborondon on a Tuesday evening. Erin had invited me to stay with her at her host family’s home (which also happened to be the home of the school’s principal–Lupe Santana–and her church’s pastor–Jose Palma). As we walked through the streets to her home, I heard a tiny voice call out, “Meece (Miss) Erin!”
A little girl of seven or eight years of age appeared on a front porch, smiling and waving at Erin. She was one of Erin’s current students at the school named Unidad Educativa Cristiana Iberoamericana Centinela (UECIC). During my short time here, it became common for us to hear the excited calls of “Meece Erin!” as we walked around.
The town of Samborondon sits beside the Rio Babahoyo (translation: Saliva Hole River). More than 10,000 inhabitants live here with the majority involved in the cultivation of rice. It’s a slow pace compared to cities like Guayaquil or Los Angeles. The sight of the automobile here is a sign of wealth. The main mode of transportation is the tricimoto, a covered carriage pulled by a motorcycle-moped-like vehicle. For $0.25, you can hitch a ride to the other side of town.
On my first morning in Samborondon, Erin gave me a tour of her school, a bi-level concrete structure just a few blocks from the river. I was introduced to the individual classes of students ranging from first through seventh grade. They wore blue-green UECIC uniforms and studied me curiously.
The first classroom I visited was full of eager five-year-olds who wanted to show off their command of the English language. “One-two-three-four…,” they yelled in unison before ending with a rendition of “Itsy bitsy spider.”
Another class provided me with recommendations on where to visit on my trip back through Guayaquil. I must admit I felt like a celebrity being shuttled from classroom to classroom and greeted with students chiming the phrase: “Buenos dias, Profesora. Qué Dios la bendiga. Amén!” (Translation: Good morning, teacher. May God bless you. Amen!)
Aside from my moment in the limelight, I felt fortunate to have been a part of the experience. I have the utmost respect for teachers and those who dedicate their lives to bettering the lives of children so it was a treat. The school itself has only been in existence since 2007, and appears to be changing lives. It provides parents with a private Christian school where their kids can attend for the tuition of $20 per month.
When school ended at noon, I sat in a classroom trying to make my presence as least disruptive as I could while Erin provided additional tutoring to a boy who was struggling with a learning disability. I inquired about him later. Sadly, his story is a common one. He lives with relatives who probably don’t put in the extra time he needs to excel in his schoolwork. While there are many parents who are very engaged in their children’s academics, Erin tells me that about 15-20 percent of the kids come from homes where they live with relatives. Due to economic reasons, their parents have left the area in order to earn a living to send money home.
After the tutoring session, Erin and I both headed out to have lunch together. As we walked away from the school, the sound of excited schoolchildren drowned out the sputtering of the tricimotos and the voice of the merchant selling snacks. I heard “Meece Erin! Meece Erin!” as we walked past the cluster of students who were finished for the day. It’s become the sound that announces there’s more work to be done. And Erin is at the front of the classroom.
Johanna with Jose, Lupe and their son Adrian.