January Journey: My Return to Yunguilla

My backpackwas tightly tucked under the seat in front of me, seatbelt buckled, hair tied back, first aid kits checked (and hopefully under the plane), passport safely tucked away, and there I was, ticket in hand, on my way back to Ecuador.

I was incredibly excited, a little bit sleepy, and hardly nervous. Although there were definitely loose ends, I was visiting friends, completing the project of my dreams, and I knew I’d figure everything else out along the way.

I arrived in Quito, hopped into a taxi, and rode to the hostel I had stayed at the first time I had visited Ecuador. What I was expecting to be familiar, was completely different. A remodel had really spruced the place up, and there was nothing better than sitting down, taking off my boots, and crawling into bed.

The next day I met up with my wonderful project volunteers. We were picked up by a friend of mine from Yunguilla, tossed our bags and all the first aid supplies into the back of his pickup, and headed out of the city and into the mountains. The mountains were as green and majestic as I remembered, and the rain made the lavish landscape glisten when the sun peeked through again. I felt alive, excited, and in awe that all of this was really happening.

We arrived in Yunguilla, and were met with warm welcomes, hugs, and smiles. Friendly faces greeted from the windows and even Cotacachi (a dormant volcano) said her hello, peeking behind the clouds that filled the valley.

The days passedslowly, but not the kind of slow that leaves you antsy, yearning to be somewhere else. I was exactly where I wanted to be, basking in the sun, sheltering from the rain, working beside friends, and eating hearty, Andean foods that leave you full and happy for hours.

The training went brilliantly, and we were able to certify many community members in wilderness-focused first aid.  The community is rural and nestled away far from immediate assistance, so it was important to make sure they can handle things on their own until help gets there. The trainer brought his pick-up and we unloaded all the supplies. We circled around in our chairs, manuals in hand, looking bright eyed at the instructor from Quito. He reviewed the basics with us, shared acronyms, and had volunteers demonstrate various injuries and methods.

There were laughs, questions, cooing babies, and whispering teens. The clouds rolled in as we watched from our restaurant classroom: finally almost ready after years of building.

Lunch time came, and we were treated to a lavish, stunningly beautiful meal, served to us by community members studying gastronomy.  Afterwards, everyone went outside to lie on the grass for a bit and let our happily rounded bellies (and our eyes) take a rest.

Training wrapped up after lunch with lessons in stabilization, group carries, and tips and tricks for common injuries. The day was long, but everything went smoothly, and I was indescribably happy to have shared in what I had been working on arranging for so long.

A few days later, there was a community meeting where I was fortunate enough to be able todistribute the first aid kits to each host family (families in the community that host visitors or tourists throughout the year).  I was nervous about this part, thinking some people may be resistant or bothered by what I was doing. But I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted with smiles and gratitude.

The rest of our time in Yunguilla was spent working in the community, celebrating the New Year, and making a day trip to Mitad del Mundo. I was able to spend the days beside my friends and enjoy the rest of my time as a vacation, with my project goals accomplished. We cooked for tourists, made cheese, planted seedlings, prepared beds for visitors, and more with the day. We shared lessons in English, played cards, shared cookies and Cokes, made mud castles and sopa sucia (a made-up soup of muddy water, various pebbles and trash) with the children; smiling and laughing the nights away. It was a euphoric passing of days. No urgency, no pressure, no watching the clock. Just living life, the way we seem to often forget.

At the end of the trip, an elderly gentleman approached me and thanked me profusely for the first aid kit his family had received, saying they had already made use of it. I won’t ever forget that moment. I spent so much time worrying about this project… trying to be careful to ensure the work I was doing was something that would truly benefit the community, something that they wanted, and wasn’t just another example of a white American trudging into a community with what they thought someone needed. That moment reassured me of what I had been working towards.

This project had been a partnership between me and Yunguilla: we discussed each step, and worked together to find solutions and make project decisions.  It was a team effort with help coming from my resources in the US, their resources in Ecuador, and most importantly generous donations from friends, family, and especially from Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems. Another special thanks to my network that brought me to Journeys of Solutions, without whom I would have struggled to spread the word on my project and lacked a secure place to raise funds.

With that, I say thank you to you all. Stay safe, stay healthy, keep trying, and keep dreaming.


I am continuing to raise funds to pay for re-certification costs. If you are interested in donating, please follow the link below. Through this link you can also find blog posts on my project, and other JOS projects.


The community’s website can be found in both English and Spanish at: www.yunguilla.org.ec

If you have any questions of would like to discuss the project, you can reach me, the project leader, Leah Bockhahn, at [email protected]. I’d be happy to chat.