Posted by: calloftheandes | February 8, 2016

Student’s Apprehension Transformed to Zeal in Ecuador Internship

Rachel Kunker after she had served chicha, a traditional drink for some jungle dwellers

Rachel Kunker after she had served chicha, a traditional drink for some jungle dwellers

by Rachel Kunker with Ralph Kurtenbach

Prior to the summer of 2015, it was mostly engineering students who helped people in remote communities get clean water to their people. I helped to change that. In fact, after my summer in Ecuador with several others—mostly engineering students—I was chided with, “You ruined our program.”

I took the comments in good humor as they were intended, knowing that I actually contributed my part. My name is Rachel, and I’m taking intercultural studies and English at Nyack College. When I first arrived in Shell, Ecuador, I was the farthest thing from being an engineer. In addition to being far from fluent in Spanish, I did not speak the lingo commonly used by engineers. I didn’t even understand terms such as a level or threaded pipe.

I went to learn more about missions and to see what it meant to tangibly serve God overseas. Little did I know the changes that would result—both in me and in Reach Beyond’s internship program.

Steadily, doubts raced through my head. What was I doing here? How was I contributing to my team? Despite the team leaders’ assurances that I provided a valuable perspective that was different from that of the engineers, I couldn’t shake off a feeling of purposelessness.

It wasn’t until our first trip to the jungle community of Iwia that I really began to feel useful. As I grew more comfortable, my doubts began to fade. It was far from perfect after the first trip, but I had a sense of belonging. I knew it was OK if I didn’t always understand the mathematical details or how to calculate certain measurements. Still, I did my best I to understand. We worked together, planning our upcoming trips and focusing on all of the tricky parts of the clean water projects.

On several occasions we visited the community of Santa Rosa, a 25-minute flight from Shell. The people worked together very hard each day. This culture of shared resources and interdependency was a pleasant change from what I was accustomed to in the U.S.

The Achuar and Shuar people have very defined roles for men and women. I was able to make connections that our expatriate men could not make. Also, based on my personality and my intercultural studies, I began to realize how easy it was for me to connect with indigenous people.

Rather than focusing on the water project, I was able to cook with the local women, go fishing with them and work with them in their gardens. Although it was not always good to be absent from engineering aspects of the water project, it was a way I could be really helpful.

Mitad del Mundo“It was amazing—much more than we ever thought,” said one of the leaders of the program. “Now Reach Beyond is actively seeking interns who are not engineers to complement the program. The program will never be the same.”

Before my involvement with Reach Beyond community development, it was unknown how having a non-engineering type like me would affect the team’s dynamics. But later in a Skype call with one of my mentors in Ecuador, I was told, “You helped other people really remain focused on why they were there.” Water is an avenue to bring the message of the gospel of Jesus to people in remote parts of Ecuador.

The community development team is making plans to have two internship teams this summer, including students pursuing experience not only in engineering and medicine but also any other career.

I’m excited that students who fill these slots will have life-changing internships, even as they are used by God with whatever talent God has given them. It’s not about water. Water is just a tool to bring the life-saving message of Jesus to the world.


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