It’s springtime in Quito, Ecuador. Auburn students have packed into a van at 7 a.m. and are winding up, down and around the mountain roads of the Andes. As the warming sun hits their faces, it’s time to lace up some boots and throw on a helmet.
What lies ahead are many days that will bring the two contrasting communities together, creating memories—and structures—to last a lifetime.
For the past nine years, the McWhorter School of Building Science has given students the opportunity to create unforgettable relationships with the people of Quito while building structures to lay the foundation of a brighter future.
Partnering with Service in Faith and Appropriate Technology (SIFAT) allows them and Auburn Building Science to benefit the lives of children in after-school programs, as well as those seeking faith.
“Our relationship with Auburn over the past several years has been a great example of how university students can learn to serve others less fortunate than themselves, and also engage the students in a culture very different than the one they are used to,” said Tom Corson, Executive Director of SIFAT.
Due to increasing popularity, students can now attend in the spring and the fall. But there are only 16 spots for young builders with wanderlust.
“It’s very rewarding that the class has grown,” Atlanta Auburn BSCI Alumni Endowed Professor Scott Kramer said. “The students really like to do it. One of the things we try to do is to plant the ‘seed of service’ into others.” Kramer said students will typically have a construction engineer and a foreman to work alongside them. Together, the students take on these building projects with a more simplified version of construction, avoiding modern machinery and using more simplified methods like mixing concrete.
Students get to experience the everyday life of Ecuador, from the markets to parks and everything in between. Then, after a few days, it’s off to Aida Leon, the current project destination site for these upcoming trips: a community building used for worship services and after-school programs.
“It’s hard work, because we basically work an eight-hour day [and] it’s 9,500 feet above sea level,” Kramer said. “That’s why we spend the first few days working cultural events, because you have to get acclimated to the altitude, or you’ll get altitude sickness.”
Kramer mentioned that for some students, this has been their first opportunity to leave the U.S. Once they’re back on The Plains, Kramer has students write a reflection paper and often times is surprised at how impactful their journey was. “I had no idea they felt that way while they were there,” he said, “but when they sat and thought about it and put words to paper, it was pretty amazing. The vast majority—it gave them a different viewpoint. Some of them, it changed their lives.”
“This trip was all hands-on building and getting down and dirty to get the foundation for this project done,” said Building Science major Mitchell Koch. Traveling to his first foreign country, Koch says it was an experience that will stay near and dear to his heart. “The project and the people there were so much more than I could have imagined and made us feel at home immediately.”
From the spectacular views of the mountains and volcanos to the pickup soccer games with the local kids, “Quito was truly beautiful,” Koch said “It also definitely made me more appreciative of the things I have here in Auburn; we get so caught up in having the newest and greatest technology, clothing, car, etc. that we forget about how blessed we really are.”
by Eric Pereria ’17