Abby Maichin and Peyton Kalb have been friends forever; well, actually since kindergarten at Southdown Primary School. All these years later, the two teenagers are now Huntington High School seniors. They are still close friends and along with their respective mothers, they traveled to Ecuador on a service trip that saw them providing working families with child care.
The summer trip to South America was an eye-opening experience for everyone and an incredibly rewarding one, too. Abby and Peyton were joined by their respective mother’s, Jennifer and Katie.
Huntington seniors and longtime friends Peyton Kalb and Abby Maichin in Quito, Ecuador
Ms. Kalb said the trip was an “amazing opportunity for Abby and I to use our Spanish that we learned while growing up and participating in the Huntington UFSD’s dual language program.”
United to Benefit Ecuadorian Children International is a non-profit NGO (non-governmental organization) founded in 1999 in Quito, Ecuador. “We work with over 600 children aged 3-17, who live and work in the markets and streets of Quito,” according to the group’s website. “Many of these children work long hours daily, do not start or stay in school, face mental and physical abuse from their families and have poor health and nutrition. UBECI aims to reach out to these children directly in the markets through a number of programs. These programs provide the children with a place to play, learn, and develop social and life skills. These programs strive to equip them with the skills to succeed in school and as confident adults who are able to contribute to their communities.”
The Huntington group’s time in South America was both exhausting and remarkably fulfilling.
“Words cannot even come close to describing the experience that I had when I went on this trip,” Ms. Maichin said. “Going in, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. When people asked me what I was doing in Ecuador, I always just responded with “Ah, a service trip to help the kids.’ And that's all I really knew about it. Once I got there we stayed in a house through the coordinating organization and settled in quite quickly.”
The four volunteers from Huntington were housed in the same building with 15 others who were also volunteering with children. Everyone bonded in short order. “They were from six different countries, so we got to meet and develop relationships with people from all around the world.”
Working with the children of Quito was clearly the highlight of the trip. “Each morning we would wake up, eat breakfast, and meet downstairs to begin our journey to a local market to play with the children,” Ms. Maichin said. “Each day we would walk around a new market and pick up kids that were working with their families and take them out of there for a few hours. We would bring each one back to a spot where we would have a tent set up and would later dump a large set of toys out. The smiles on each of their faces was huge; they were so happy. You could tell that each child was deprived of love and affection because all they wanted to do was play with you and sit on your lap or give you a huge hug.”
Once play time was complete, everyone came together to sing songs and participate in some interactive games. “Afterwards, we would have them all sit down and give them a lesson on dental hygiene, which was this week’s focus,” Ms. Maichin said. “It was mind blowing how many children don’t brush their teeth, let alone own a toothbrush. Each child was so engaged and was willing to learn. After the lesson, each kid was gifted a toothbrush and they held onto it like it was there prized possession.”
UBECI’s goal for its theme weeks is to have children “self-improve” on something they can control as they move forward.
“Each day was amazing,” said Ms. Maichin about the trip. “My takeaway was that most of these children, parents and families have close to nothing. Some people were making $7 a day. I realized that we are so lucky here, yet somehow a lot of us are unhappy. While in Quito, Ecuador, children are getting the opportunity to play with some Legos and they are the happiest humans on earth. It made me realize to admire what we all have here and to be thankful and happy about it all.”
Ms. Maichin and Ms. Kalb and their mothers were also able to enjoy the splendor of South America. “Ecuador was beautiful,” Ms. Maichin said. “We took a gondola up to the top of a 13,000 foot mountain where there was a swing and a view of the entire city of Quito. It was a beautiful and eye-opening experience. I just wish there was more I could do for the children. I am also so grateful that I was able to use my Spanish so fluently, due to the dual language program.”
Ms. Kalb said she was “excited to help the children as much as possible during my time there.” The reactions they got daily from the youngsters clearly indicated how the children felt.
“The reason we chose to do work in Ecuador was because it gave Peyton and I an opportunity to use our Spanish in a setting where it is a million percent necessary,” Ms. Maichin said. “My mom would call me over and ask me to speak to the cashier to order her food.”
Safely back home in Huntington, all four volunteers are busy telling their families and friends about their summer journey.
“It was an amazing trip that I will never forget,” Ms. Maichin said. “I was so excited I was able to spend it with my mom and my forever friend and her mom.”