Alexandra Fernandez '13 Johnson Opportunity Grant Winner Studies Law and the Environment in Ecuador

Alex Fernandez is a biology major from San Antonio, Texas. She applied for a Johnson Opportunity Grant to spend her summer in Ecuador, studying law and the environment.

The Chilean ducks are relentless. Though the common perception is that roosters are the alarm clock of the animal kingdom, I know better. It's another beautiful day here on the coast of Ecuador, and the ducks make sure to start moving before the sun does. Not long after, the nearby carretera begins to chime in, with buses roaring past at breakneck speeds. Sleeping past 6:00 a.m. is practically impossible, but being the early bird that I am, it doesn't bother me too much. After climbing out of my mosquito netting, I carefully descend the rickety stairs and jump in the outdoor shower for a cold wake-up call. The smell of breakfast wafts over me as I quickly get dressed for another exciting day. Downstairs my host mother, Liz, serves up a plate of huevos fritos, toast and Nescafe instant coffee, the breakfast of champions for myself and the other volunteers. After thanking my Ecuadorian mom and leaving with a customary kiss on the cheek, I head outside to wait for the next bus. My home is in Puerto Rico, which shares few commonalities beside its name with the U.S. territory. I can walk from one end of the town to the other in five minutes, and after only a few short weeks, it seems as if I am acquainted with all of Puerto Rico's inhabitants. After a little wait, I jump on a bus to head over to Puerto Lopez, a town of slightly more substantial size, where I spend my time volunteering.

Once I arrive, I walk to the Municipio, a local government building which serves the canton of Puerto Lopez. Upstairs are the Judicial and Environmental departments, both of which I spend considerable time working with. First I head over to the Judicial Department and see what the lawyers have in store for the day. Hamilton, a young lawyer, and Maria, the secretary, enjoy having me take some time each morning to teach them some English. After learning some new vocabulary and phrases, it's Hamilton's turn to show me something new. He breaks out the Constitution of Ecuador, which was recently adopted in 2008, or a number of other documents for us to review. Hamilton explains his frustrations with the current judiciary system and recounts different experiences he has had with past clients. His insight is incredibly interesting and allows me to see the commonalities and disparities Ecuador shares with the United States.

After spending time in the Judiciary department it is always refreshing to make my way over to the Environmental department. Pedro, my contact in the area, and I occasionally plant trees at a local compost site. The reforestation work that the city is undergoing is truly remarkable. The location where we are planting is barren and resembles nothing short of a desert. Out of necessity, Pedro and I created some watering tools to keep the seedlings hydrated between visits. We collected 3 liter bottles at the local dump, poked holes in the bottoms, and then attached each bottle to a stick. Each baby tree had a watering system placed next to it and at the end of each visit to the compost site we fill up the bottles and twist the cap to gauge the pressure. By doing so the water leaks as a slow drip and sustains the plants until our next visit. The effort with which such an impoverished town works to make an organic garden and nursery part of their city makes me take a steps back every time I think about it. Pedro constantly mentions how great it will be when I return to Puerto Lopez in a few years and see the difference I have made.

Lunch is an always-delicious two-dollar meal at a local place that serves great seafood. In town the locals always say that the fish comes straight from the sea to your table, and that is truly the case in this place, where fishing undoubtedly sustains the majority of the population. Given that my host dad is a fisherman, I find myself with no shortage of the freshest catch. After lunch I run over to the girls academy where I teach several English classes. The girls are between 12 and 15 years old, and really seem interested in learning. Besides English, the girls love to ask me various questions about my life, and in this way I feel like I can act as a positive role model. The progress that the girls are making is substantial, and they love to sing and play games to help them learn. After a successful class I head over to the bus stop to head back to Puerto Rico.
Once home I may walk to the beach to read a book or just watch my host brothers surf. Dinner as a family is great, as my Ecuadorian mom and brothers have big personalities and there is no shortage of jokes or stories to share. After a long and satisfying day, I am always thankful that I received a Johnson Opportunity grant and was able to undergo such a life-changing experience. A té con limón is all I need to put me to bed before another exciting day here in el mitad del mundo.